Managing healthcare budgets in times of austerity: the role of program budgeting and marginal analysis

Craig Mitton, Francois Dionne, Cam Donaldson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
161 Downloads (Pure)


Given limited resources, priority setting or choice making will remain a reality at all levels of publicly funded healthcare across countries for many years to come. The pressures may well be even more acute as the impact of the economic crisis of 2008 continues to play out but, even as economies begin to turn around, resources within healthcare will be limited, thus some form of rationing will be required. Over the last few decades, research on healthcare priority setting has focused on methods of implementation as well as on the development of approaches related to fairness and legitimacy and on more technical aspects of decision making including the use of multi-criteria decision analysis. Recently, research has led to better understanding of evaluating priority setting activity including defining ‘success’ and articulating key elements for high performance. This body of research, however, often goes untapped by those charged with making challenging decisions and as such, in line with prevailing public sector incentives, decisions are often reliant on historical allocation patterns and/or political negotiation. These archaic and ineffective approaches not only lead to poor decisions in terms of value for money but further do not reflect basic ethical conditions that can lead to fairness in the decision-making process. The purpose of this paper is to outline a comprehensive approach to priority setting and resource allocation that has been used in different contexts across countries. This will provide decision makers with a single point of access for a basic understanding of relevant tools when faced with having to make difficult decisions about what healthcare services to fund and what not to fund. The paper also addresses several key issues related to priority setting including how health technology assessments can be used, how performance can be improved at a practical level, and what ongoing resource management practice should look like. In terms of future research, one of the most important areas of priority setting that needs further attention is how best to engage public members.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-102
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Health Economics and Health Policy
Issue number2
Early online date24 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • health economics
  • austerity
  • public sector


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