Health technology assessment provides a common framework for evaluating the costs and benefits of new health technologies to inform decisions on the public funding of new pharmaceuticals and other health technologies. In Australia and England, empirical analyses of the opportunity costs of government spending on new health technologies suggest more quality adjusted life years (QALYs) are being forgone than are being gained by a non-trivial proportion of funded health technologies. However, assessing the value of new pharmaceuticals and other health technologies is more complicated than estimating incremental costs and QALYs. This essay considers the relevance of available empirical estimates of opportunity costs and explores the relationship between the public funding of health technologies and broader political and economic factors. On the one hand, companies may invest less in Australia if fewer technologies are funded. On the other hand, health spending on health professionals has a far greater multiplier effect and results in significantly greater economic growth than spending on pharmaceuticals. Such effects should be considered by the government when assessing the value and the acceptable price of new health technologies. We conclude that the benefits of a general reduction in the prices paid by governments for new technologies outweigh the costs, but evidence of informed public acceptance of reduced access to new health technologies may be required to shift the current approach to assessing the value of new health technologies.
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