The Policy Analysis Process: Analysis of Values
An analysis that considers technological capabilities, economic outcomes, and political support
will usually point toward a single health policy recommendation. Yet any final recommendation
must take into account values, especially where there are competing trade-offs. You might ask
this: Does not the political process, which a recommendation often goes through before it can
be adopted and implemented, take care of those value concerns? Do not decision makers
reflect their personal values and those of their constituencies in the positions they take during a
policy debate and in their votes? Yes, the political process will reflect the current wider conflicts
in American society over social mores, the nature of human life, the role of government, the
economic marketplace, and collective versus individual rights. In this chapter, however, we
consider some value issues relating specifically to health care and the health care professions.
These values may or may not be considered in the political process and should be assessed as
part of any robust analysis.
Value issues discussed briefly in this chapter include:
â€¢ Equitable access
â€¢ Efficiency and value
â€¢ Patient privacy and confidentiality
â€¢ Informed consent
â€¢ Personal responsibility
â€¢ Quality, variability, and malpractice reform
â€¢ Professional ethics
â€¢ Consumer sovereignty
â€¢ Process equity
This chapter ends with the broader question of how a wide range of social institutions might be
influenced by the growth of the medical sector of the economy.
12.1 EQUITABLE ACCESS
Priester (1992) suggested that the United States should reorder its values to give the greatest
emphasis to fair equity, which he defined as giving each individual access to an â€œadequate level
of care.â€ Skipping over issues of residency and eligibility, he argued, â€œAssuring access to health
care, regardless of cause or source of need, is societyâ€™s responsibilityâ€; however, he added that
â€œthis does not require access to all potentially beneficial careâ€ (p. 92). He maintained that this is
the only approach that would not exceed the available resources or deprive some segments of
society of their opportunity for a reasonably full life. He saw this as a floor, not a ceiling;
someone with more personal resources could choose to consume more health services. He saw
the U.S. system as overemphasizing provider autonomy, individualism, and assumed
abundance. He felt that we have too often let economic considerations outweigh ethical ones.
A similar argument could be made for removing health disparities; among the major causes of
which is differential access to care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made a step in the
direction of fair access by moving toward universal coverage and by calling for a defined
essential benefit package.
12.2 EFFICIENCY AND VALUE
If resource scarcity leads society to overlook some populations or to restrict necessary services
to them, then efficiency is important. â€œWaste not, want notâ€ is not always a fundamental value in
a system in which one personâ€™s waste is another personâ€™s enhanced income. Porter and
Teisberg (2006) argued against a â€œzero-sumâ€ mentality that attempts to maximize each
individual providerâ€™s share of the existing pie and favored reducing waste to enhance the value
received by individual consumers. One could also promote the collective view that the services
available to consumers collectively form a â€œzero-sumâ€ game in which all will get more if the
collective waste is minimized. One way or another, there is considerable merit in viewing waste
negatively, rather than as enhanced income.
Because it is so hard to get individuals to pull together on efficiency and cost minimization,
some policy experts have tended to emphasize â€œvalue.â€ We now have value-based
compensation experiments that allow sharing of the savings with providers and provide
compensation for higher-quality outcomes. The sense here is that there is value created when
you get greater quality for the same cost or the same quality for lower cost, or both positive
In a survey that asked health industry leaders to rank 11 areas of innovation for their potential
impact in terms of quality and cost over the next 5 years, the highest ranking went to process
improvement. The other innovation areas likely to contribute to both improved quality and cost
were data analytics, nonphysician delivery alternatives, disease management, and alternatives
to fee-for-service. The respondents believed innovations in diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and
electronic medical records would help with costs but not quality, and they forecasted a low
likelihood of help along either dimension from consumer incentives or from basic research (Chin
et al., 2013). The good news is that process improvement is an area where any provider who
wants to make a difference can contribute.
12.3 PATIENT PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
Increasingly, electronic patient records, digitized information already collected for billing and
claims, and specialized databases offer potential for finding out more about disease processes
and care outcomes. At the same time, they offer possibilities for excluding individuals from care
or for breeches of the confidentiality that one expects when encountering the health care system
and is often guaranteed by laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
(HIPAA). News stories about stolen laptops with personal data crop up frequently. This is an
area where trade-offs will continue to be difficult and frustrating, and it will continue to be
important in policy analysis and decision making.
12.4 INFORMED CONSENT
Requirements for informed consent for patients and human subjects in research represent a
constraint on provider autonomy. They add to the staff burden, but are a regulatory requirement.
Table 12-1 illustrates part of the federal regulations governing informed consent by research
subjects in federally funded research. You might ask yourself this: What values are represented
here, and why were they made an added requirement of all research in the first place?
Table 12-1 Code of Federal Regulations Section 50, Subpart B, Informed Consent of Human
Â§50.20: General requirements for informed consent
Except as provided in 50.23 and 50.24, no investigator may involve a human being as a subject
in research covered by these regulations unless the investigator has obtained the legally
effective informed consent of the subject or the subjectâ€™s legally authorized representative. An
investigator shall seek such consent only under circumstances that provide the prospective
subject or the representative sufficient opportunity to consider whether or not to participate and
that minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence. The information that is given to the
subject or the representative shall be in language understandable to the subject or the
representative. No informed consent, whether oral or written, may include any exculpatory
language through which the subject or the representative is made to waive or appear to waive
any of the subjectâ€™s legal rights, or releases or appears to release the investigator, the sponsor,
the institution, or its agents from liability for negligence.
Section 50.24 Basic elements of informed consent.
(a) In seeking informed consent, the following information shall be provided to each subject:
(1) A statement that the study involves research, an explanation of the purposes of the
research and the expected duration of the subjectâ€™s participation, a description of the
procedures to be followed, and identification of any procedures which are experimental.
(2) A description of any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject. (3) A
description of any benefits to the subject or to others which may reasonably be expected from
(4) A disclosure of appropriate alternative procedures or courses of treatment, if any, that might
be advantageous to the subject.
(5) A statement describing the extent, if any, to which confidentiality of records identifying the
subject will be maintained and that notes the possibility that the Food and Drug Administration
may inspect the records.
(6) For research involving more than minimal risk, an explanation as to whether any
compensation and an explanation as to whether any medical treatments are available if injury
occurs and, if so, what they consist of, or where further information may be obtained.
(7) An explanation of whom to contact for answers to pertinent questions about the research
and research subjectsâ€™ rights, and whom to contact in the event of a research-related injury to
(8) A statement that participation is voluntary, that refusal to participate will involve no penalty
or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled, and that the subject may
discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is
(b) Additional elements of informed consent. When appropriate, one or more of the following
elements of information shall also be provided to each subject:
(1) A statement that the particular treatment or procedure may involve risks to the subject (or to
the embryo or fetus, if the subject is or may become pregnant) which are currently
(2) Anticipated circumstances under which the subjectâ€™s participation may be terminated by the
investigator without regard to the subjectâ€™s consent.
(3) Any additional costs to the subject that may result from participation in the research.
(4) The consequences of a subjectâ€™s decision to withdraw from the research and procedures for
orderly termination of participation by the subject.
(5) A statement that significant new findings developed during the course of the research which
may relate to the subjectâ€™s willingness to continue participation will be provided to the subject.
(6) The approximate number of subjects involved in the study.
(c) When seeking informed consent for applicable clinical trials, as defined in 42 U.S.C.
282(j)(1)(A), the following statement shall be provided to each clinical trial subject in informed
consent documents and processes. This will notify the clinical trial subject that clinical trial
information has been or will be submitted for inclusion in the clinical trial registry databank under
paragraph (j) of section 402 of the Public Health Service Act. The statement is: â€œA description of
this clinical trial will be available on http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov, as required by U.S. Law. This
Web site will not include information that can identify you. At most, the Web site will include a
summary of the results. You can search this Web site at any time.â€
(d) The informed consent requirements in these regulations are not intended to preempt any
applicable Federal, State, or local laws which require additional information to be disclosed for
informed consent to be legally effective.
(e) Nothing in these regulations is intended to limit the authority of a physician to provide
emergency medical care to the extent the physician is permitted to do so under applicable
Federal, State, or local law.
Source: Reproduced from: Code of Federal Regulations (2013, April 1). Protection of human
subjects. Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office. Title 21, Volume 1, Part 50. Retrieved
on December 17, 2013, at
12.5 PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
A significant portion of the cost of health care can be attributed to lifestyle choices, such as
smoking, lack of exercise, overeating or poor nutrition, not wearing seat belts or cycling helmets,
and use of drugs and alcohol. Many policy proposals seek to change the behavioral risk factors
or shift those costs to the individuals at risk. Smokers pay higher insurance premiums for
long-term care, for example. Some analysts have suggested that those involved in risky
behaviors, such as not wearing motorcycle helmets, post a bond to cover their incremental
medical care costs in case of an accident. Most people would agree that individuals should take
more responsibility for their behavior rather than have it borne as a collective risk, but there is
less agreement on the effort society should expend to make healthy choices more attractive.
There is considerable evidence, for example, that the development choices we makeâ€”our built
environmentâ€”can encourage or discourage physical activity. A politician asked to support a bill
to encourage â€œwalkabilityâ€ or â€œmultimodal transportation hubs,â€ however, may be inclined to
attribute lack of exercise solely to, as one state legislator put it, â€œa lack of personal fortitude.â€
The question of personal responsibility comes up repeatedly in debates about health reform and
the ACA in particular. Key elements of the reform can be seen as an attempt to balance a
societyâ€™s responsibility to ensure equitable access with an individualâ€™s responsibilities. The
individual mandate legislates personal responsibility, using tax fines to ensure that young,
healthy people can pay for their own care if they need it and do their share to support a larger
system they will likely rely on as they age. When Governor Mitt Romney was considering the
individual mandate as part of the Massachusetts reforms, he noted that the personal mandate
was about personal responsibility, which is a fundamental Republican value (Starr, 2011). Yet, in
a video released by Mother Jones during the campaign, Romney said that 47% of the
population feel entitled to government handouts. â€œIâ€™ll never convince them that they should take
personal responsibility and care for their lives,â€ he said (Mother Jones, 2012). In his acceptance
speech after winning another term, President Obama emphasized social responsibility:
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on
earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain
obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans
have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are
love and charity and duty and patriotism. Thatâ€™s what makes America great.
Previous sectionNext section
12.6 QUALITY, VARIABILITY, AND MALPRACTICE REFORM
We hear a lot about malpractice reform and frivolous lawsuits and unreasonable awards for pain
and suffering. We see local television advertisements by law firms seeking to represent clients
â€œwrongedâ€ by providers and insurers. State and federal legislatures and courts debate whether
to cap the size of awards or determine when they are excessive. Funding flows freely into
campaign coffers from organizations on both sides of the debate; trial lawyers favor the
Democratic Party, whereas insurers and organizations representing health providers and
facilities favor the Republican Party. Putting political posturing aside, however, several
values-related policy issues recur in the debates on this area, including the following:
â€¢ The value of a human life lost and of other negative consequences suffered unnecessarily
â€¢ The allocation of the responsibility for error between the individual provider and the overall
â€¢ The amount of variability in outcomes and events that is unavoidable and how much is
â€¢ The appropriate way to compensate advocates for patient rights and to overcome
inappropriate provider behavior
â€¢ How much to let the provider community police itself and how much and when to intervene in
the public interest.
12.7 PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Access and rationing are aspects of distributive justice. Confidentiality, truthfulness, informed
consent, respect for patient and professional autonomy, and the safety of the patient are all
topics cited in discussions of professional ethics and in professional codes of ethics. Most
professionals have had some indoctrination in biomedical ethics and are aware of key issues.
Most professions have an ethical code or statement. Most such statements have become more
general over time as patient autonomy has become more respected and monopolistic practices
have come under government scrutiny. At the same time, professional societies may take strong
positions without incorporating them into a code. For example, the American Nurses Association
has long supported health care as a basic right delivered through a single-payer system.
What About Health Policy Experiments?
Daniels (2006) raised an interesting ethical question for health policy professionals: What if we
required that health system transformations had to undergo an ethical review process similar to
that required of medical research experiments? He noted that these social experiments can put
significant populations at risk. He did not suggest what the mechanism for such reviews might
be; however, he raised the issues of balancing the social value of the experimental policy
changes with the risks to which those affected are exposed and how we might go about
conducting such a review. He suggested three levels of analysis:
1. Select benchmarks for the ethical analysis in terms of their effect on:
2. Conduct an ethical evaluation of how well the design of the proposed reform meets its goals:
a. How good is the evidence used to justify the intervention?
b. Is the implementation planned adequate to test the results?
c. Will the intervention measure the effect with sufficient sensitivity to evaluate the results?
d. Are the key implementers involved in the planning and committed to an unbiased evaluation?
3. Determine whether there is sufficient oversight to protect the rights of those involved in the
experiment. Informed consent might be impractical in many settings.
He mostly offered examples of international situations, but, overall, he noted, â€œUnfortunately,
there is little experience in measuring how systems establish transparency, accountability, and
fair process in decisions involving resource allocationâ€ (p.450).
12.8 CONSUMER SOVEREIGNTY
Those who want a highly competitive marketplace want the consumer to make decisions rather
than the government. The examples in the box on the next page illustrate views of health policy
analysts on both sides of this economic and political ideological divide. The typical health
professional is in a bit of a straddle here. Most believe in patient autonomy but also recognize
that consumer sovereignty often comes at the expense of professional power and influence,
which some would call paternalism, but may positively affect patient compliance and clinical
outcomes as well.
12.9 SOCIAL WELFARE
Interest groups at the table during policy formulation may or may not adequately represent the
publicâ€™s interests. There are a number of ways of evaluating outcomes in terms of social welfare.
Some are economic; some are not. Economic models that would base policy decisions on
benefitâ€“cost or cost-effectiveness criteria raise issues of valuation, such as
CONTRASTS IN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL IDEOLOGY
Cannon and Tanner (2005) agreed in one respect with many who support a greater government
role in health: that the health care sector of the economy is special. But they argued that
because it is special, reliance on competition is even more critical:
Unlike software, wireless communications, or banking, health care involves very emotional
decisions, which often entail matters of human dignity, life, and death. However, we do not see
the gravity of these matters as a reason to divert power away from individuals and toward
government. Rather we see the special nature of health care as all the more reason to increase
each consumerâ€™s sphere of autonomy. (pp. 146â€“147)
Richmond and Fein (2005) concluded otherwise. They would prefer to use public policy to
create a more equitable society:
Health and health care are vitally important in influencing lifeâ€™s chances and oneâ€™s income and
wealth should not determine the amount and quality of care one receives. We seek a system in
which the financing and distribution of health services reflect our image of a just society, a
society in which economic arrangements reflect a moral dimension. (p. 4)
â€¢ Willingness to pay
â€¢ Contribution to gross domestic product
â€¢ Social costs avoided, as in the case of support of a family when the breadwinner dies
At the same time there are other considerations, such as
â€¢ Lives saved
â€¢ Quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs)
â€¢ Pain and suffering avoided
In this arena, there are counterattacks to the economic arguments (Ackerman & Heinzerling,
Costâ€“benefit analysis of health and environmental policies trivializes the very values that gave
rise to these policies in the first place. Moreover, through opaque and intimidating concepts like
willingness to pay, quality-adjusted life-years, and discounting, economic analysts have
managed to hide the moral and political questions lying just under the surface of their precise
and scientific-looking numbers. It is time to blow their cover. (p. 234)
Discounting is easy to do mathematically but difficult to interpret practically, politically, and
ethically. The problem is in the trade-off between the present and the future, a difficult problem
in all policy making. The standard economistsâ€™ approach of bringing the costs and benefits back
to a net present value explicitly biases the analysis against future events. Some advocates,
therefore, argue for a discount rate of 0%.
Ackerman and Heinzerling also questioned the use of QALY metrics because they discriminate
against the older population, who will naturally have fewer years ahead of them. The same can
be said of any analysis dealing with contribution to gross domestic product, because the older
population generates little output or will soon stop generating it and the output of children is so
far into the future that any reasonable discount rate obliterates the benefits. This is why some
suggest that economic analysis is useful for payers and for comparing treatment alternatives for
specific illness, but that it really does not work well when comparing an array of different
alternative public investments.
Bodenheimer and Grumbach (2005) suggested a two-part definition of rationing: (1) limiting care
that is likely to be beneficial due to scarce resources, including money, and (2) a method of fairly
distributing the resources that are available. To this we would add a third condition: (3) that the
decision-making method is determined by society rather than a corporation or an individual.
Bodenheimer and Grumbach noted that popular use of the term rationing tends to equate it with
withholding of care and ignores the second necessary condition. That distinction separates
arbitrary actions to decrease the cost of care from situations in which the system attempts to
distribute its limited resources in a systematic and equitable way. There are a variety of notions
of equity, and thus a rationing system may be designed to
â€¢ Reduce overall costs to a targeted level
â€¢ Maximize access
â€¢ Maximize the social welfare based on the contributions of the individuals within the population
â€¢ Maximize medical effectiveness:
â€¢ Subject to a cost constraint
â€¢ Subject to other resource limitations
â€¢ Combinations of the above
For example, the attempt of the British National Health Service (NHS) to limit the costs of care
has led to at least one charge of rationing in which a woman with breast cancer was denied the
drug Herceptin by a local health authority on the basis of cost. An account of this has been
included in Table 12-2.
Reducing Overall Health Care Costs to a Target Level
An effective rationing system is not aimed at minimizing health care costs. They cannot be
driven to zero; however, when there is a budgetary limitation or a fixed-revenue situation, a
system must be in place to decide which services will not be provided to which individuals. In
many cases, this is done by limiting the population served and limiting the services offered.
For example, one of the largest Medicaid expenses is paying for longterm care for older people,
a service not covered by Medicare. States have quietly limited the amount they pay by limiting
the number of new nursing home beds they license. They know that there is a strong linear
relationship between the number of beds available and the amount of Medicare claims received.
Maximize the Social Welfare
When transplanted organs first became available, it was clear that there were not enough to go
around. Institutions doing transplants set up committees of individuals concerned with medical
effectiveness and medical ethics to determine who would get the next available organ. This
process provides an example of how social welfare considerations can influence rationing and
access decisions. The committees examined a mixture of personal, family, and medical data to
determine literally who should live and who would, in all probability, die. Considerations included
family status, work status, medical factors such as alcoholism and comorbidities, and psychiatric
factors. Outside observers were also suspicious that ability to pay might be creeping into the
Table 12-2 Rationing and the Courts
Ann Marie Rogers, 54, sued the Swindon Primary Care Trust after it refused treatment for her
early-stage HER2 breast cancer with the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab), even after her doctor
prescribed it. The Roche drug is licensed for late-stage breast cancer, but some studies showed
it to be effective for early-stage cancer as well. Ms. Hewitt, the British Health Secretary, had
praised the efforts of other women to get the treatment, and the Health Department had ordered
the local health services â€œnot to withhold it solely on the grounds of cost,â€ even while a
government-appointed review panel was in the process of setting new guidelines for the use of
the drug. Treatment with Herceptin costs $36,000â€“47,000 a year for each patient and was
supplied under very different circumstances by the local health trusts. The Swindon trust had a
policy of supplying Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer only in â€œexceptional circumstances.â€
Ms. Rogers had pointed to her cancer being of the type responsive to the drug and the risk
factors of the death of her mother and a cousin from cancer.
When the trust refused to fund her treatment, Ms. Rogers starting paying for the drug on her
own, but had to stop when her own resources were used up. Thus, she sued the authority, citing
the â€œpostal code lottery,â€ which determined who got treated and who did not. A lower court judge
ruled in February 2006 that the Swindon health serviceâ€™s denial was lawful. In April, however, a
three-judge appeals court overturned that verdict and said the local health service had acted
unlawfully, noting that â€œonce the Primary Care Health Trust decided, as it did, that it would fund
Herceptin for some patients and that the cost was irrelevant, the only reasonable approach was
to focus on the patientâ€™s clinical needs and fund patients within the eligible group who were
properly prescribed by their physician.â€ It observed that there had been â€œno rational basis for
distinguishing between patients within the eligible group on the basis of exceptional clinical
circumstances any more than on the basis for personal, let alone, social circumstancesâ€ (Lyall,
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued a press release on April 12, 2006, in
which NICE Chief Executive Andrew Dillon reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that new
drugs are both safe to use, by having an effective system for licensing, and used in the right way
through the work that NICE does. â€œWithout these things, we risk exposing patients to risks and
the health service to using its money unwisely,â€ he said (NICE, 2006a).
After a public comment period that closed in June 2006, NICE issued guidance in August 2006.
â€œTrastuzumab, given at 3-week intervals for 1 year or until disease recurrence (whichever is the
shorter period), is recommended as a treatment option for women with early-stage
HER2-positive breast cancer following surgery, chemotherapy (neoadjuvant or adjuvant), and
radiotherapy (if applicable)â€ (NICE, 2006b, p.4).
In June 2012, NICE again addressed the breast cancer issue with Technical Appraisal 257,
â€œBreast cancer (metastatic hormone receptor)â€”lapatinib and trastuzumab (with aromatiase
inhibitor).â€ It stated that NICE did not recommend this as first-line treatment for post-menopausal
women who have metastatic breast cancer that is hormone-receptor and HER2 positive. It
explained its response as follows:
NICE looks at how well treatments work, and also at how well they work in relation to how much
they cost the NHS. NICE applies special considerations to treatments that can extend the lives
of people who are nearing the end of their life. Lapatinib and trastuzumab (herceptin) do not
provide enough benefit to patients to justify their high cost even when the special considerations
were applied, so NICE did not recommend them. (NICE, 2012)
One problem with the social welfare criterion is that it goes well beyond issues that health
professionals are comfortable with. Issues might include citizenship status, economic
contribution, utility of oneâ€™s work, and emotional impact on others. Reaching some agreement
on the importance of each of these is unlikely given current value conflicts in our society. That
does not mean that we cannot reach a social consensus, but rather that it would be very difficult
to justify once we have reached it.
Maximize Utility and Medical Effectiveness
â€œThe providing or withholding of care is ideally determined by the probability that the treatment
will maximize benefits and minimize harm, i.e. by the criterion of medical effectivenessâ€
(Bodenheimer & Grumbach, 2005, p. 137). This concept was operationalized in the Oregon
Basic Health Services Act of 1989, which tried to guarantee health care for all and still control
health care costs through an open, publicly accountable rationing process. At that time, one had
to be at or below 58% of the federal poverty level to receive Medicaid benefits in Oregon, and
this bill was intended to open that up to those below the 100% level. The state created a Health
Services Commission to recommend the prioritization of health services. The 11-member body
was to report its priorities to the governor and the Joint Legislative Committee on Health Care.
An actuarial contractor would then estimate the cost of each of the prioritized services for the
committee. After the Medicaid budget for services was set, the package of services offered to
the Medicaid population would be developed using the priority lists. Essentially, the process
would be to go down the list taking the next highest priority coverage until the estimated budget
package was exhausted. Other services then would be outside this basic coverage. If the
demand exceeded the funding provided, Oregon was prepared to reduce the benefit package
rather than ration through eligibility thresholds or Medicaid reimbursement levels, as so many
other states were doing (Calkthan, 1991).
The commission used three techniques to develop the prioritization of some 800 services. It
held 11 open public hearings around the state. It also had Oregon Health Decisions, a respected
advocacy group, conduct 47 community forums, including one in every county. Each forum
featured a slide presentation, group discussions, and a questionnaire on the participantsâ€™
opinions about the relative importance of specific health situations and categories. About 70% of
the more than 1,000 individuals attending these forums were health care workers. The
commission also supported a statewide random-digit dialing survey asking 1,000 individuals to
rate 31 health care situations on a modified Quality of Well-Being (QWB) scale that had been
validated elsewhere. That information was used to build a costutility scale called a â€œnet benefit
valueâ€ scale. That study produced a listing of 1,600 medical conditionâ€“treatment pairs. The
orderings produced by the telephone survey were highly debatable. Fox and Leichter (1991)
reported that â€œcrooked teeth received a higher ranking than early treatment for Hodgkinâ€™s
disease, and dealing with thumb sucking was ranked higher than hospitalization of a child for
starvationâ€ (p. 22). Because it was clear that the derived utilities were not workable in terms of
overall values, commission members negotiated among themselves for an acceptable ordering.
For example, the four consumer representatives on the panel argued for higher rankings for
preventive services because that is what the public seemed to have been saying during this
process. Rather than a continuous ranking, they came up with 709 pairs grouped according to
three basic categories: essential, very important, and valuable to some individuals (Kaplan,
1995), and then under 17 subcategories of outcomes, using descriptors such as survival,
degree of recovery, and degree of improvement on the QWB scale (Fox & Leichter, 1991).
Implementing this process required a federal Medicaid waiver, which the federal government
denied on the grounds that the assessments of quality of life by healthy individuals tended to
stereotype and discount the value of quality for the disabled, and the process, therefore,
violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kaplan (1995) argued that this finding was in error
and offered counterevidence.
Instead of debating these issues, Oregon chose to resubmit its application with the utility portion
of the model excluded. Its revised waiver application considered probability of death and
probability of moving up from a symptomatic to an asymptomatic state. By giving up the utility
component of the model, Oregon ignored the fact that health states are valued (Kaplan, 1995).
Priester (1992) argued that the plan had been flawed because it denied access to a reasonable
level of care to some, but not to others. In 1993, the Clinton administration approved the revised
Combinations of One or More
Table 12-3 contains a description of how the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
allocates available organs (not including related donors). This contractor was set up after
passage of the National Organ Transplantation Act of 1984. It emphasizes the likely medical
outcome and then pays attention to oneâ€™s length of time on the waiting list; however, the issue of
whether the transplant takes place is also contingent on the availability of private insurance or
Medicare or Medicaid funds to pay for it. By now you should be aware that trying to maximize
one thing while trying to minimize or maximize another is often a mathematical impossibility. It is
legitimate, however, to have a system in which one objective is traded off against another. The
problem is that most attempts to do so never specify what the trade-off ratios are because trying
to arrive at a consensus ratio is likely to generate conflict over the weightings that cannot be
resolved without considerable loss of momentum and goodwill. Allocation rules, therefore, tend
to remain fuzzy. You can see this even in the UNOS description. It is clear that the concept of a
social welfare criterion is not really operative there.
Table 12-3 How the Transplant System Works: Matching Donors and Recipients
Under the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) contract with the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Servicesâ€™ Health Services & Resources Administration,
UNOS maintains a centralized computer network linking all organ procurement organizations
and transplant centers. This computer network is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,
with organ placement specialists in the UNOS Organ Center always available to answer
A person who may benefit from a transplant is referred by his or her doctor to a transplant
center, which evaluates the patient. The transplant center runs a number of tests and considers
the patientâ€™s mental and physical health, as well as his or her social support system. If the
center decides to accept this person as a transplant candidate, it will add his or her medical
profile to the national patient waiting list for organ transplant. The candidate is not placed on a
ranked list at that time. Rather, his or her information is kept in a constantly updated,
When a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator from an organ procurement
organization accesses the UNOS computer. Each patient in the database in matched against
the donor characteristics. The computer then generates a ranked list of candidates for each
available organ in ranked order according to OPTN organ allocation policies.
The match for each donor would be different and unique to the circumstances of the donor and
the patients waiting. Factors affecting ranking may include tissue match, blood type, length of
time on the waiting list, immune status, and the distance between the potential recipient and the
donor. For heart, liver, lung, and intestines, the potential recipientâ€™s degree of medical
emergency is also considered. The organ is offered to the transplant team for the first person on
the list. Often, the top patient will not get the organ for one of several reasons. When a patient is
selected, he or she must be available, healthy enough to undergo major surgery, and willing to
be transplanted immediately. Also, a laboratory test to measure compatibility between the donor
and recipient may be necessary. For example, patients with high antibody levels often prove
incompatible to the donor organ and cannot receive the organ because the patientâ€™s immune
system would reject it.
Source: Reproduced from: United Network for Organ Sharing. (n.d.). How the Transplant
System Works: Matching Donors and Recipients. Richmond, VA: UNOS. Retrieved on
December 27, 2013, from www.unos.org/donation/index.php?topic=fact_sheet_1.
12.11 PROCESS EQUITY
Not only must the outcome of the policy analysis and selection processâ€”that is, the policy
itselfâ€”be perceived as fair, but so should the process that produced it. For example, before
settling on a policy, the policy analysts must ask themselves whether all interested parties
participated. If not, have the underrepresented or disenfranchised had their issues addressed by
the analysts? This was a relevant concern in the Oregon process, which, although highly
rational, seemed dominated by health professionals and by more educated and civically
involved individuals. It is not unusual for opponents of a policy to argue against the
inclusiveness or integrity of the policy development process. Many governments have
requirements for public hearings that are regionally representative in hopes that their process
will be fairer to those concerned and to protect themselves against complaints about the
12.12 INFLUENCE ON SOCIETY: A BROADER QUESTION
With the medical care sector headed toward constituting 20% of the economy, we have to
wonder about the long-term effects of this much emphasis on health in our society. Areas of
concern might include:
â€¢ A focus on illness and the possible loss of a sense of well-being
â€¢ Commercial pressure to overemphasize medical problems
â€¢ The power of the medicalâ€“industrialâ€“university complex
Is it healthy to be so conscious of our health? Is it healthy to be so stressed about our medical
bills? Just about every sector of our society adds a health concern to its primary and previous
missions. Churches add health ministry committees and/or health-trained staff members.
Schools take on more responsibility in terms of childrenâ€™s medications and their special needs;
some have even established school-based health clinics. Tax revenues previously devoted to
education and infrastructure get diverted to health care. All of these individual decisions may be
virtuous, but they also signal a changing societal focus from toughing it out to getting it fixed
through health care, whether that works or not.
Because health care represents an opportunity for growth, we see more and more commercial
pressure to expand its marketsâ€”and its â€œtop of mindâ€ awareness for the public. In a way, this is
good because it creates more innovation. However, it can create demand for which there is not
a significant need and siphon resources away from areas of true need. Two issues that illustrate
this are the explosive growth in direct-to-consumer advertising, especially on television, and the
creation of new syndromes to justify new products, such as the hotly debated emergence of
Many older doctors report that they were trained that the normal upper limit for systolic blood
pressure was your age (at least up to 55 years) plus 100 millimeters of mercury over 90
(diastolic). Then, in 1977, the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation,
and Treatment of High Blood Pressure issued its first report establishing the guideline of 120/80
mm Hg as optimal, 120â€“129/80â€“84 mm Hg as within the normal range, and 130â€“139/85â€“89 mm
Hg as high normal. Then, in May 2003, it issued a new guideline stating that levels above
120/80 mm Hg constituted prehypertension and indicated increased risk for heart attack, stroke,
or kidney disease. This new diagnostic entity was to be treated with the same methods as
beforeâ€”diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes and, if these fail to do the trick, a diuretic.
Critics argue that there is no randomized clinical trial evidence below 140 mm and suggest that
the pharmaceutical industry, which might double its number of treatable patients, not only
approved of the decision, but may have influenced it. They note that reducing salt intake will
help some, but hinder others, and that treating blood pressure â€œby the numbersâ€ is not good
medicine, although it is tempting when a provider is pressed for time and faced with patients
who expect a prescription. They point out that hypertension can have a number of causes and
that it should be viewed as part of a â€œmosaicâ€ of risk factors associated with cardiovascular care.
In November 2013, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology
issued a new set of joint guidelines for cholesterol treatment, calling for treatment for anyone
with a 10-year risk factor for a cardiac event of 7.5% or more. The two organizations also issued
a new risk calculator, a spreadsheet that considers age, race, cholesterol levels, blood pressure,
and other factors. The risk calculator combined with the new threshold will result in a dramatic
increase in the number of individuals that should be treated. The risk calculator came under
immediate criticism because reviewers said the model overpredicted risk by 75% or more. The
main complaint was that it relied on outdated demographic data.
Most of the public discussion focused on the use of statins to lower cholesterol, but treatment
could also include prescribing drugs that lower blood pressure. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a
Dartmouth medical professor, said the calculator treated the relationship between blood
pressure and heart risk as if it was a straight line. â€œThe model suggests that lowering systolic
blood pressure from 130 to 100 is nearly as important as from 180 to 150,â€ he told the New York
Times. â€œI doubt there is a cardiologist that believes thatâ€ (Kolata, 2013).
A good classroom exercise would be to search out other newly emphasized conditions and
track down their medical and commercial origins. You can start by turning on your television and
noting all the ads for drugs that one must take regularly to suppress some distress such as acid
reflux, erectile dysfunction, or insomnia.
In the United States, much debate centers on pharmaceutical industry advertising aimed directly
at consumers, the cost of which ranges between $3 billion and $5 billion annually. Health care
advertising, especially for prescription drugs, seems to have replaced all of the airtime and
billboard space that had been taken up by cigarette and tobacco ads before they were banned.
Are we that much better off from stopping one set of ads and substituting another? Other
countries, including New Zealand, have barred this type of commercial activity.
Sterling offered a vision of a medically obsessed future in his novel Holy Fire (1996). In it,
protagonist Mia Ziemann is 94 years old and still professionally active as a medical economist.
In her world, wealth is all about how many medical procedures one can afford to extend oneâ€™s
longevity. The medicalâ€“industrialâ€“research complex clearly dominates the entire economy, and
young people are disenfranchised because employment opportunities
rarely open through retirement or death. It is a disturbing vision, and yet one that is strangely
familiar and highly plausible because Sterling draws on existing trends to shape his view of the
late 21st century. Indeed, his major failing as a futurist may have been underestimating the rate
Values are the fourth leg of the analystâ€™s desk, working alongside technology, politics, and
economics to support identifying a policy recommendation.
This chapter outlines a number of concerns that a policy analysis group must consider in
addition to the other three as they factor in concern for the general welfare of our society and
our democratic traditions. The issues of ethics and values are not just limited to professional
decisions, but also play an important role in all analyses of policy alternatives.
Case 12 The Folic Acid Fortification Decision: Before and After
At 5 p.m. on July 20, 1991, Dr. Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr., head of the Division of Birth Defects and
Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), took a
phone call that, he says, â€œforever changed my life.â€ On the phone was a member of the British
Medical Research Council (MRC) Vitamin Study Group, calling to share study results that would
be published the following month in The Lancet (SerVaas & Perry, 1999).
The MRC study focused on women who had previously had a pregnancy in which the fetus or
child had a neural tube defect (NTD), a birth defect of the spinal cord or brain. In April 1991, the
MRC halted its study after almost 8 years because the data indicated that daily folic acid
supplementation before pregnancy and during early pregnancy resulted in a 71% reduction in
the recurrence of NTDs (CDC, 1991). It was no longer ethical not to provide folic acid to all of
Dr. Oakley told the Saturday Evening Post Society in 1999,
Until that time, I thought that prevention of neural tube defects by taking folic acid
supplementation was certainly no better than 50â€“50. If you really pressed me on what I would
have thought the likelihood that a vitamin would have prevented neural tube defects, I would
have said no more than 10% or 20%. But this was the first randomized, controlled trial designed
and executed in a way that it proved folic acid would prevent spina bifidaâ€”not all but most of it.
You could bet the farm that folic acid prevents neural tube defects. (SerVaas & Perry, 1999, p. 3)
The study ignited a policy debate lasting several years. In the United States, the question of
how to increase folic acid consumption in woman of child-bearing years was contentious in
itself, but the issue was complicated further by the controversy that surrounded implementation
of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990, which required the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to regulate the health claims of food manufacturers.
Among the tools policy makers had to help them sift through their options were three economic
analyses: costâ€“benefit analyses produced in 1993 and 1995 and a cost-effectiveness analysis
completed in 1996. All three predicted positive net economic benefits from fortifying foods with
NTDs are a class of birth defects that involve the brain and spinal cord. The most extreme form
is anencephaly, in which all or part of the brain is missing. Another form is spina bifida, in which
the spinal cord is not fully encased in the spine. In the early 1990s, there were about 4,000
NTD-associated pregnancies per year in the United States.
Folates are a form of B vitamin that occurs naturally in leafy vegetable, legumes, nuts, and other
foods. Folic acid is its synthetic form. Folates help cells replicate quickly.
Reports that increased folic acid intake could help prevent birth defects date back to 1965
(Hibbard & Smithells, 1965). Vitamin manufacturers learned how to add it to their supplements
in the 1970s. The Saturday Evening Post Society launched its campaign to promote folic acid
supplementation in October 1982 in the wake of a report that women who took a vitamin
supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid experienced fewer NTD-affected pregnancies. In the late
1980s, the CDC held a workshop to discuss emerging research linking folic acids to reductions
in the numbers of NTDs, which renewed interest among supplement manufacturers.
Support for folic acid was limited, however. Post writers Cory SerVaas and Pat Perry (1999)
reported that they were ridiculed for their efforts to promote folic acid. Scientific evidence was
sparse, inconclusive, and based on observational epidemiological studies. Around the time of
the CDC workshop, in fact, the National Research Council advised the FDA that it should lower
the recommended daily allowance. A 1990 report by the Institute of Medicineâ€™s Food and
Nutrition Board called taking vitamin supplements to prevent NTDs â€œunjustified.â€ The National
Academy of Sciences also discounted the link between NTDs and folic acid in its 1990 Report
on Nutrition and Pregnancy.
In the midst of this debate, the NLEA skated through Congress and was signed by President
George H. W. Bush. The act directed the FDA to establish standards for nutrition labels and
define how certain terms such as â€œlow fatâ€ and â€œlow cholesterolâ€ could be used on food
packaging. Congress also directed the FDA to investigate 10 specific health claims and develop
language food manufacturers could use to convey any valid claims on their packaging. One of
those claims was that folic acid reduced the risk of neural tube defects. The FDA was hard at
work on its proposed rules when The Lancet published the MRC study (MRC Vitamin Study
Research Group, 1991).
The study involved more than a thousand women in 33 centers across 17 countries.
Researchers divided the subjects into four groups. Those in the first group received 400 mcg of
folic acid. Those in the second group received the same amount of folic acid plus a multivitamin
supplement. Those in the third group received neither the multivitamin supplement nor folic acid,
and those in the final group received only the multivitamins. NTDs recurred 1% of the time when
mothers received folic acid, with or without other vitamins, and 3.5% of the time when they
received nothing or only the multivitamin supplement.
The MRC study did not settle the debate. It investigated women who had already had a
NTD-associated pregnancy and therefore might be predisposed to having another; the results
were not necessarily applicable to the general population. An FDA-contracted study released in
November 1991 said it was not possible to positively conclude that folic acid prevented NTDs,
but it criticized the Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences reports. FDA draft
rules issued later that month rejected claims that high-folate foods prevented NTDs, but it called
its conclusion â€œtentativeâ€ and left open the possibility of further review.
The CDC, however, was less equivocal. At a 1991 conference on â€œVitamins, Spina bifida, and
Anencephaly,â€ participants generally accepted the notion that women who were pregnant or
might become pregnant required more folic acid. They began to wrestle with what FDA
Commissioner David Kessler would call â€œone of the most difficult issuesâ€ of his tenureâ€”exactly
how to go about providing that folic acid.
There were only a few ways to ingest more folic acid at the time: consume more foods naturally
high in folates, take vitamin supplements, take folic acid pills, or eat fortified foods. Each option
brought its own challenges. Working against the natural nutritionists was the fact that natural
folates have lower bioavailability than folic acid and break down during cooking. A typical U.S.
woman ingests only 25 mcg of naturally occurring folates daily, and thus it is hard to envision
women ingesting 400 mcg through dietary changes.
At the time, folic acid by itself was only available in a 100-microgram prescription formulation.
The level of folic acid in most multivitamin supplements was so low that a woman trying to hit
the 400-microgram target would have to ingest toxic levels of other vitamins. One option was to
make folic acid more readily available in larger doses. Another was to reformulate multivitamins.
Both options suffered from the same problem: Only periconceptional intake (ingestion before
pregnancy and during the first few weeks after conception) is effective; yet roughly half of all
pregnancies occur without early prenatal care. You would have to convince all women to take
pills to supplement their folic acid intake throughout their childbearing years or risk missing more
than half the pregnancies.
That left the possibility of fortification (adding a nutrient to food that does not otherwise contain
it). This approach would reach everyone, including all women who are or might soon become
pregnant. Food fortification and enrichment (increasing the levels of a nutrient already in a food)
has a long history in the United States, beginning in 1924 with the decision to add iodine to salt
to prevent goiter and other iodine-deficiency disorders. Vitamin D was added to milk in the
1930s (much later, vitamin A was added to low-fat dairy products). Flours and bread have been
enriched with various nutrientsâ€”1938 through 1942 saw the addition of thiamine, niacin,
riboflavin, and iron.
Four hundred micrograms of folic acid, however, struck many as a pharmacological dose.
Best-selling longevity authors Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw said fortification was equivalent to
medicating competent adults without informed consent (Junod, 2006). Scientists worried about
adverse reactions. One known issue was that folic acid at daily doses of a microgram or more
could mask vitamin B12 deficiency,
particularly among the older population, prompting some scientists to worry that fortification
would simply shift risks from developing embryos to adults with pernicious anemia (Gaull et al.,
Fortification gained adherents after the MRC study appeared and supportersâ€™ ranks swelled as
people became aware of two studies, as yet unpublished, conducted on women with no history
of NTD-affected births. One, conducted in Hungary by Andrew Czeizel and his colleagues,
showed benefits in the general population from consuming 800 mcg per day. Another, the
â€œWerler study,â€ studied women in Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto. Although Werler and her
colleagues recommended 400 mcg daily, they found that even 250 mcg offered some
protection. In May 1992, Dr. Walter C. Willet argued in an American Journal of Public Health
editorial that â€œfortification should be the long term goalâ€ (Junod, 2006).
NEW PUBLIC RECOMMENDATION
In September 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service announced that women of child-bearing age
should get 400 mcg of folic acid every day, a decision touted by the CDC but soft-pedaled by the
FDA and the National Institutes of Health (Palca, 1992). The announcement did nothing to
satisfy the two policy questions in the FDAâ€™s lap: whether to allow food products to promote their
folic acid levels on their labels and whether to require that certain foods be fortified with folic
Amid safety concerns, the FDAâ€™s folic acid advisory committee recommended against a folic
acid health claim after a November 1992 meeting. In early 1993, the FDA, working under tight
deadlines, adopted an NLEA rule that reflected this position and disallowed a health claim;
however, the committee expressed an interest in fortification, and it reconvened in April 1993 to
look at a variety of unresolved issues, including fortification. By October, the FDA had reversed
its position, publishing a draft rule that would allow health claims for foods containing folic acid.
There were many aspects of the rule, but its core was a provision that would allow health claims
for foods that contained 40 mcg or more of folic acid per serving. On December 31, 1993, the
rule became final.
The October 1993 draft rule had contained provisions about fortification, but fortification was not
mandated as part of the New Yearâ€™s Eve ruling. The FDA and its folic acid advisory committee
continued to struggle with a variety of implementation questions.
Federal agencies are required to conduct regulatory impact analyses as part of rulemaking and
starting in 1993 were required to assess expected costs and benefits of significant rules. FDA
staff conducted a CBA and estimated that fortification with 140 mcg of folic acid per 100 grams
of cereal grain products would prevent 116 NTD-affected births per year. This analysis tallied
direct savings, notably medical care avoided, and estimated a savings of $5 million for each
case averted, resulting in economic benefits of $651â€“786 million annually. The annual cost of
fortification would be $27 million, and thus the annual net economic benefit would be $624â€“750
million (FDA, 1993).
In 1995, University of California researchers published a second CBA. They estimated that 304
NTD-associated births would be avoided through fortification. Using a different method that
looked at lost productivity, they put the value of a case avoided at $342,500. The economic
benefit came in at $121.5 million. From this, the researchers deducted not only the cost of
fortification, which they put at $11 million, but the cost of adverse eventsâ€”namely 500 cases of
neurological damage annually at a cost of $16.4 million. Their calculations resulted in an
estimated net benefit from fortification of $93.6 million (Romano, Waltzman, & Scheffler, 1995).
These two studies were before the advisory committee as it debated folic acid implementation,
and they played a role in shaping the draft folic acid fortification rule published on March 5,
1996. A third analysis, published by the CDC that same year, was not influential. The CDC
estimated 89 averted NTDs at a total benefit of $16.1 million annually. That was largely offset by
the $11 million cost of fortification and an estimated $350,000 in health costs related to 89 cases
of neurological damage. That left a net benefit of $4.7 million.
The FDA ultimately adopted a rule requiring fortification of cereal grain products with 140 mcg of
folic acid for every 100 grams of grain. The rule went into effect on January 1, 1998. Between
October 1998 and December 1999, the prevalence of reported cases of spina bifida declined
31%. Anencephaly declined 16%. Various studies over the years have put the total reduction of
cases of spina bifida and anencephaly at 20â€“30%, much more than were reflected in the three
ex ante economic analyses. (Not all of the improvement can be attributed to fortification,
because women of childbearing age can expect to get only about a quarter of their
recommended intake of 400 mcg through fortified grains, and public education campaigns
continue to promote consumption of folic acid through vitamin pills.) Figure 12-1 shows the type
of product labeling allowed with folate-fortified products.
Figure 12-1 Two labels (â€œnutrition factsâ€ for foods and â€œsupplement factsâ€ for vitamin
supplements) showing how regulations allow display of folate content.
Source: Courtesy of the Office on Womenâ€™s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and
THE RESULTS COME IN
Studies in Chile and Canada also reported the effectiveness of folate fortification programs.
Canada mandated 150 mcg per 100 grams in 1998; Chile required 220 mcg per 100 grams in
2000. Three Canadian population-based studies showed reductions in the incidence of
NTD-related births of 50%, 54%, and 43%, respectively. A single study in Chile included
measures of increased folate blood levels from fortification and reported a 43% reduction in the
NTD rate within 6 months. Differences among these studies included differences in fortification
levels and differences in measurement and reporting regarding the inclusion or exclusion of
stillbirths and terminated pregnancies.
The CDC published a before and after epidemiological study in 2004 that reported that
surveillance-based population studies from 1995 and 1996 (prefortification) and 1999 and 2000
showed a reduction in the estimated number of NTD-affected pregnancies from 4,000 to 3,000.
These results are summarized in Table 12-4. An editorial note in the Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report (MMWR) noted that a 26% reduction was somewhat less than earlier studies
had indicated and short of the national goal of a reduction of 50% (CDC, 2004).
In 2005, Grosse and colleagues published an ex post economic study of fortification in the
United States. It estimated 520 averted cases of spina bifida and 92 cases of averted
anencephaly annually, which led to economic benefits per case of $636,000 and $1,020,000,
respectively. That translated into $425 million in economic benefits ($146 million in direct costs,
mostly medical) against an annual cost of fortification of $3 million. The authors did not identify
any documented adverse health effects from fortification.
This study used a 3% discount rate but noted that Office of Management and Budget guidelines
called for comparisons using both 3% and 7% discount rates (at least one ex ante study had
used a 5% rate). Of the $636,000 savings per spina bifida case avoided, the study reported,
$279,000 was direct costs, mostly medical, with the rest apparently indirect costs for nonmedical
caregiving. For the anencephaly cases, almost all of the $1,020,000 in costs were indirect. In
addition to the required 3% and 7% discount rate comparisons, the authors performed
sensitivity analyses with only 80% of the cases avoided attributed to folate fortification and with
a doubling of the fortification costs. Then they developed a worst-case scenario that assumed
only 80% of the observed benefits attributed to the intervention, a doubling of the cost of
fortification, and a $25 million allowance for the potential effects of neurological damage from
untreated anemia. This worst-case scenario still yielded annual net direct benefits of $88 million
after expenditures of $6 million on fortification and an overall benefit of $312 million. The
authors observed that the benefits were exceptionally large and noted that â€œfew public health
interventions beyond immunization and injury prevention are cost saving.â€
Table 12-4 Estimated Average Annual Numbers of Spina Bifida and Anencephaly Cases Based
on Prevalence per 10,000 Live Births from Surveillance Systemsâ€”United States 1995â€“1996
For systems with prenatal ascertainment, estimated total pregnancies included live births,
stillbirths, prenatally diagnosed cases, and elective terminations. For systems without prenatal
ascertainment*, estimates included live births, stillbirths, and fetal deaths through 20 weeks.
Fetal deaths and elective terminations were calculated as difference between systems with and
without prenatal ascertainment. The numbers of NTD-affected pregnancies and births were
determined as prevalence multiplied by the average total number of U.S. births during the
respective periods, as derived from the U.S National Vital Statistics System.
*Programs with prenatal ascertainment use specific case-finding techniques to identify
prenatally diagnosed and electively terminated cases.
Source: Modified from: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Spina bifida and
anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate: United States, 1995â€“1996 and 1999â€“2000.
MMWR, 53, 362â€“365. Accessed December 11, 2013, at
Hertkampf (2004) estimated that in Chile the fortification process cost approximately $280,000
annually. For spina bifida, she estimated the cost of surgery and rehabilitation for each of the
110 cases avoided annually at $100,000. She noted that bread is more of a staple of the
Chilean diet. Commenting on the low priority given to folate fortification in most developing
countries, she noted that prevalence data are lacking and that NTDs are not recognized as an
important cause of morbidity and mortality.
A meta-analysis of eight population-based studies found that folic acid food fortification reduced
the incidence of NTDs by 46% (Blencowe et al., 2010). The authors estimated that in
low-income countries, fortification could reduce the number of neonatal deaths stemming from
congenital abnormalities by 13%.
NEW CONCERNS ABOUT ADVERSE EFFECTS OF HIGH DOSAGES
The earlier concerns about the masking of B12 deficiencies in the elderly have not been
supported with reported cases. New concerns, however, surfaced by 2007 about the impact of
high doses of folates on colorectal cancer (CRC). Animal studies suggested that high doses led
to two conflicting effects. Doses higher than those normally introduced by fortification protected
against the onset of CRCs, but also seemed to stimulate the growth rates of existing
neoplasms. These observations, reported by Mason et al. in 2007, were not followed up by
randomized controlled trials, which led the British Scientific Advisory Council on Nutrition
(SACN) to report in January 2008, â€œThe evidence for an association between folic acid and
increased or reduced cancer risk is equivocal.â€
A 2009 report on two Norwegian clinical trials with high doses of folic acid and vitamin B12 in
patients with ischemic heart disease showed significant increases in overall cancer rates
(Ebbing et al., 2009). However, folic acid was considered to have a preventive effect toward
heart disease and stroke (Wang et al., 2007).
Vollset and colleagues (2013) conducted a meta-analysis that examined 13 randomized trials of
people taking folic acid supplements. The studies were all conducted before 2011 and combined
they enrolled almost 50,000 subjects. No significant effects were found with regard to folic acid
supplementation on the incidence of cancer of the large intestine, prostate, lung, breast, or any
significant site. The authors noted that folic acid dosages in the study were an order of
magnitude greater than intake from fortified food.
A CDC-sponsored study (Crider, Bailey, & Berry, 2011) that reviewed concerns about adverse
effects found no evidence that fortification masked or exacerbated neuropathies related to
anemia. It found no increase in cancer; no definitive studies showing adverse health effects from
exposure to unmetabolized folic acid; and no evidence that folic acid was leading to epigenetic
changes in human DNA. The researchers concluded, however, that future hypotheses
addressing concerns about epigenetic changes would have to be explored. Crider and
colleagues noted that careful monitoring of existing and proposed programs was needed to
allow the scientific community to determine the blood folate concentrations required for NTD
prevention as well as to evaluate and respond appropriately to concerns that may arise.
FORTIFICATION IN OTHER COUNTIES
To date, more than 50 countries have adopted mandatory fortification, but many of the programs
have yet to be implemented (Crider et al., 2011). A number of English-speaking countries are
considering a mandate at the recommendation of food safety agencies, but for a variety of
reasons only Australia has completed its implementation.
Australia and New Zealand
Mandatory fortification of bread began in Australia in September 2009. Voluntary fortification
had been allowed for more than 10 years. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
recommended mandatory fortification of bread in 2007 following an extensive review begun in
2004. The recommendation triggered a public comment period followed by approval of the
Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, which is made up of the food
and health ministers of the two countries. A 12-month phase-in period was to follow. FSANZ
(2009) anticipated that a mandate would avoid about 14â€“48 of the 300â€“350 NTD-affected
pregnancies that occur annually in Australia. New Zealand, however, put the plan on hold after a
media campaign against fortification by bakers increased public concern about the proposed
fortification. In August 2012, the New Zealand government announced that fortification would
remain voluntary, with the goal of half of all bread products to be fortified eventually.
Irelandâ€™s Plans Derailed
In 1990, Ireland had one of the highest rates of NTDs in Europe, with 10â€“15 NTDs per 10,000
live births. Voluntary fortification and nutritional education were only marginally successful, so in
2002 the Department of Health turned to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). In 2003,
FSAI recommended fortification, and the health minister established a National Committee on
Folic Acid Food, which consulted the parties involved and in July 2006 recommended
mandatory fortification. An Implementation Group on Folic Acid Fortification was formed with the
expectation of final implementation. In 2008, however, the implementation group reported that
folic acid intake by woman of childbearing age had increased 30% as a result of voluntary
fortification, and the incidence of NTDs had been reduced to 9.3 per 10,000 live births. Although
Irelandâ€™s daily folic acid intake of 90 mcg is well below international targets and other countries
are achieving a much lower rate of NTD-associated births (5â€“6 per 10,000 live births), the group
concluded that mandatory fortification would be of limited public health benefit at that time,
although the decision is subject to future reconsideration.
Meanwhile, Back in the U.K.
The U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) first discussed the issue of fortification in 2002 amid
concerns about possible risks to the health of older people. Then the Scientific Advisory
Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent expert panel, reviewed the evidence and
tracked the emerging science. SACN issued a November 2005 draft report (the final report was
released in December 2006) that recommended mandatory fortification of flour, and in April
2006, the FSA agreed to consider four options for improving folate levels in young women:
â€¢ Do nothing.
â€¢ Increase efforts to encourage young women to change their diets and take supplements.
â€¢ Further encourage voluntary fortification of foods.
â€¢ Implement mandatory fortification of â€œthe most appropriate food vehicle.â€
The FSA consulted with consumers, stakeholders, and industry in early 2007. A SACN briefing
paper issued in January 2008 recommended fortification of flour but also called for the
establishment of baselines for folic acid intake and folate concentrations in the blood so future
surveillance programs could identify trends. It also called for standardized testing protocols
In 2009, SACN concluded that there was not sufficient data to support concerns about cancer,
and it reconfirmed its recommendation in support of mandatory fortification. The four chief
medical officers for the U.K. then recommended mandatory fortification to the four health
Mandatory fortification with folic acid is established practice in the United States and voluntary
or mandatory fortification has been introduced in more than 50 countries worldwide as a
strategy to help women of childbearing age increase their intake of folate. In countries where it
has been implemented, it dramatically reduced NTD-associated births. So far, no European
country has adopted mandatory folic acid fortification. Voluntary fortification is widely practiced
in the European Union under regulation 1925/2006/EC, which allows the fortification of all foods
except unprocessed foods and alcoholic beverages. Foods fortified with folic acid are widely
available on the European market, except in Sweden, where fortification is not practiced, and in
Denmark and Norway, which require approval. The range of product categories that are fortified
on a voluntary basis includes dairy products, breakfast cereals, cereal bars, fruit juices, fat
spreads, bread, and beverages. Maximum levels for the addition of folic acid to foods are not
yet set in European regulations. The levels vary widely, with the highest levels added to
spreads. Further use of fortification around the world, including in poorer nations, could
dramatically reduce the global burden of NTDs.
1. Describe the authorizing environment for folic acid fortification in the United States.
2. Why would a decision based on strong British studies influence the U.S. decision to fortify
cereal products but yield a delayed response in the U.K.?
3. Contrast and compare the variables and their values used in the before and after CBA
studies. What conclusions would you draw from them about that approach in this case? In