21 November 2015

The bias against unglamorous diseases

From a letter to the editor of the Economist:
[R]oughly speaking, mental health receives only about half the research funding it should in America, based on its health burden. The problem is that many interest groups lobby Congress vigorously for research funding for their disease. Patients with mental illness do not yet exert that kind of political pressure. letter from Michael Hanna of Mercury Medical Research & Writing, 'the Economist' dated 21 November
It's striking how unrelated is healthcare funding to need. Medical experts have little capacity or incentive to see beyond their own institution or speciality. Government - and not only in the US - responds to pressure from interest groups and allocates funds accordingly. Slipping through the cracks are unglamorous diseases including mental illness. Even within a class of diseases, such as cancer, funding discrepancies are stark: this paper looks at the UK. I think government here is failing in its purpose. It should target for improvement the broad health of all its citizens rather than merely respond to lobbyists, however dedicated, sincere and hard working. It should, as far as possible, be impartial as to the causes of ill health, and direct resources to where they can return the biggest health benefit per dollar spent. Applying the Social Policy Bond principle to health could do this. For more, see my short paper on Health Bonds.

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