What should guide priority setting in health care? A study of public preferences in Sweden

  • Linda Ryen Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency
  • Niklas Jakobsson Karlstad Business School, Karlstad University
  • Mikael Svensson Health Metrics, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
Keywords: equity, health care rationing, prioritizing, public preferences


Priority setting criteria in health care are commonly set by politicians on behalf of the public. It is desirable that these criteria are in line with societal preferences in order to gain acceptance for decisions on what health services to provide and reimburse. We study public preferences for the allocation of the health care budget based on age, disease severity and treatment cost. We use data from a web survey where 1,160 respondents provided their views on priority setting criteria in health care. The data was analyzed using multinomial logistic regression analyses and one-sample proportion tests. Between 13 to 25 percent of the respondents agree that age, disease severity and treatment cost are valid criteria for priority setting, whereas 56 to 80 percent support weaker versions of the statements. We also find significant differences within the population; young men are for example more prone to support explicit priority setting criteria. Our results imply a need for trade-offs in health care priority setting if balancing differing preferences among population groups. To achieve a greater understanding for priority setting in general, and for using economic reasoning in particular, there may be a need for more public transparency to make clear that priority setting is inevitable.

Published: Online December 2019

Research Note