Weighting must wait: incorporating equity concerns into cost effectiveness analysis may take longer than expected

A Wailoo, A Tsuchiya, C McCabe


Current practice in economic evaluation is to assign equal social value to a unit of health improvement (“a QALY is a QALY is a QALY”). Alternative views of equity are typically considered separately to efficiency. One proposal seeks to integrate these two sets of societal concerns by attaching equity weights to QALYs. To date, research in pursuit of this goal has focussed on candidate equity criteria and methods for estimating such weights. It has implicitly been assumed that should legitimate, valid, and reliable equity weights become available, it would be a straightforward task to ncorporate them into as a separate simple calculation after estimating cost per unweighted QALY. This paper suggests that in many situations these simple approaches to incorporating equity weights will not appropriately reflect the preferences on which the weights are based and therefore equity weights must be incorporated directly into the cost effectiveness analysis. In addition, to these technical issues, there are a number of practical challenges that arise from the movement from implicit to explicit consideration of equity. Equity weights should be incorporated in economic evaluation, but not until these challenges have been appropriately addressed