February 14, 2008 3:38PM

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth … What?

An article in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine should be read by everyone who has ever believed that “investing” in preventive care would save money. After reviewing the evidence, the authors write:

Sweeping statements about the cost‐​saving potential of prevention … are overreaching. Studies have concluded that preventingillness can in some cases save money but in other cases canadd to health care costs …

Our findings suggest that the broad generalizations made bymany presidential candidates can be misleading. These statementsconvey the message that substantial resources can be saved throughprevention. Although some preventive measures do save money,the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literaturedo not. Careful analysis of the costs and benefits of specificinterventions, rather than broad generalizations, is critical.

The authors also note that actual (non‐​preventive) medical treatments often buy as much health for the money as preventive care.