Background: Inclusion or not of a treatment strategy in the publicly financed health care is really a matter of prioritisation. In Sweden priority setting decisions are governed by law in which it is stated that decisions should be guided by firstly the principle of need and secondly the principle of cost-effectiveness.
Objective: The purpose of the paper is to discuss and illustrate the roles of need and cost-effectiveness in decisions on inclusion or not of treatment strategies in the publicly financed health care.
Methods: The theoretical backgrounds of need and cost-effectiveness are discussed in short, both with respect to their meaning and to their potential roles in decisions on priority setting. Four treatment strategies, Viagra, Rivastigmine, statins, and lung transplants, are analysed with respect to whether either cost-effectiveness or need, or both, seem to have played a role in the decisions of inclusion or not in the basic health care package.
Results: Both need and cost-effectiveness are important and should be important aspects when making decisions on priority setting. From the examples of the four treatment strategies it seems that decisions are almost exclusively made with reference to the principle of need.
Conclusions: The most evident conclusion to be drawn from this study is that decisions on priority setting are almost solely based on the principle of need. This implies that the principle of cost-effectiveness is given very little space, which is a problem as this means an obvious risk of inefficient resource use.
priority setting basic health care health care resources need cost-effectiveness