Incorporating Concepts of Inequality and Inequity into Health Benefits Analysis

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Incorporating Concepts of Inequality and Inequity into Health Benefits Analysis

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Title: Incorporating Concepts of Inequality and Inequity into Health Benefits Analysis
Author: Chemerynski, Susan M; Tuchmann, Jessica L; Levy, Jonathan Ian

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Citation: Levy, Jonathan I., Susan M. Chemerynski, and Jessica L. Tuchmann. 2006. Incorporating concepts of inequality and inequity into health benefits analysis. International Journal for Equity in Health 5:2.
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Abstract: Background: Although environmental policy decisions are often based in part on both risk assessment information and environmental justice concerns, formalized approaches for addressing inequality or inequity when estimating the health benefits of pollution control have been lacking. Inequality indicators that fulfill basic axioms and agree with relevant definitions and concepts in health benefits analysis and environmental justice analysis can allow for quantitative examination of efficiency-equality tradeoffs in pollution control policies. Methods: To develop appropriate inequality indicators for health benefits analysis, we provide relevant definitions from the fields of risk assessment and environmental justice and consider the implications. We evaluate axioms proposed in past studies of inequality indicators and develop additional axioms relevant to this context. We survey the literature on previous applications of inequality indicators and evaluate five candidate indicators in reference to our proposed axioms. We present an illustrative pollution control example to determine whether our selected indicators provide interpretable information. Results and Conclusions: We conclude that an inequality indicator for health benefits analysis should not decrease when risk is transferred from a low-risk to high-risk person, and that it should decrease when risk is transferred from a high-risk to low-risk person (Pigou-Dalton transfer principle), and that it should be able to have total inequality divided into its constituent parts (subgroup decomposability). We additionally propose that an ideal indicator should avoid value judgments about the relative importance of transfers at different percentiles of the risk distribution, incorporate health risk with evidence about differential susceptibility, include baseline distributions of risk, use appropriate geographic resolution and scope, and consider multiple competing policy alternatives. Given these criteria, we select the Atkinson index as the single indicator most appropriate for health benefits analysis, with other indicators useful for sensitivity analysis. Our illustrative pollution control example demonstrates how these indices can help a policy maker determine control strategies that are dominated from an efficiency and equality standpoint, those that are dominated for some but not all societal viewpoints on inequality averseness, and those that are on the optimal efficiency-equality frontier, allowing for more informed pollution control policies.
Published Version: doi:10.1186/1475-9276-5-2
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