Health Care, Overconsumption and Uneconomic Growth: A Conceptual Framework

Writing in Social Science and Medicine, Martin Hensher and colleagues describe how over-consumption of health and health are can generate social costs higher than their economic benefits. 

In recent decades, write Martin Hensher and colleagues in Social Science and Medicine, concern has grown that economic growth in many rich countries may, in fact, be uneconomic. Uneconomic growth occurs when expansion in economic activity causes environmental and social costs that are greater than the benefits of that additional activity. Health care has enjoyed a close historical relationship with economic growth, with health care spending consistently growing faster than GDP over the long term. This paper explores the possible relationship between health care and uneconomic growth. It  summarizes the  rapidly growing evidence on the harms caused by poor quality health care and by the overuse of health care, and on the environmental harms caused by health care systems. The authors urge interdisciplinary research to quantify the joint harms of over-consumption in health and health care, and to estimate the optimal scale of the health sector from novel perspectives that make human and planetary health and well-being higher priorities than GDP and profit.