Some Remarks on Equality in Health and Health Care

  • Daniel M. HausmanEmail author


The univariate distribution of health in a population is of little interest to egalitarians, whether relational or distributional, and the relational egalitarian has a hard time saying anything about how the distribution of health bears on whether individuals can interact as equals. The correlations between health and other factors relevant to well-being are of interest to both kinds of egalitarians, even though the relational egalitarian, unlike the distributional egalitarian, has no ultimate interest in distribution. It is difficult to specify distributional or relational egalitarian ideal distributions of health care and to determine what policies would best implement these ideals. What is of particular interest about health to egalitarians are mainly the links between health and other relevant social factors and the distribution of health care, public health programs, and health research. It might be thought that health care resources should be redistributed in the most cost-effective way, measuring effectiveness not by the consequences for total welfare alone, but by the consequences for some measure of egalitarian value. But there are ethical objections to the use of cost-effectiveness information to allocate health-care resources, even with an egalitarian understanding of “effectiveness.” It is very difficult to adjudicate among the moral considerations that are relevant to the allocation of the health-care budget: efficiency with respect to egalitarian objectives, prioritizing the treatment of those whose health problems are worst, offering fair chances to all, and avoiding discrimination are difficult problems. Regulated markets offer one possible response to these difficulties.


Health Health care Egalitarianism Health insurance Distributional egalitarianism Relational egalitarianism Cost-effectiveness 



An earlier version of this paper was delivered at a Conference on “Inequality, Fairness, and Markets” at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Toulouse in June 2017. I am grateful to the conference participants for helpful criticisms. The final version was completed with support from the Ludwig Lachmann Fellowship at the London School of Economics. Parts of this essay trace back to my 2015 book, Valuing Health: Well-Being, Freedom, and Suffering. I am grateful to two referees for extensive criticisms and suggestions on an earlier version.


This research was supported in part by a Ludwig Lachmann Fellowship at the London School of Economics.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest exists.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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