Prioritising, Ranking and Resource Implementation - A Normative Analysis

Document Type : Original Article


1 National Center for Priority Setting in Health-Care, Department of Medicine and Health, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

2 Academy for Care, Worklife and Welfare, University of Borås, Borås, Sweden


Priority setting in publicly financed healthcare systems should be guided by ethical norms and other considerations viewed as socially valuable, and we find several different approaches for how such norms and considerations guide priorities in healthcare decision-making. Common to many of these approaches is that interventions are ranked in relation to each other, following the application of these norms and considerations, and that this ranking list is then translated into a coverage scheme. In the literature we find at least two different views on how a ranking list should be translated into coverage schemes: (1) rationing from the bottom where everything below a certain ranking order is rationed; or (2) a relative degree of coverage, where higher ranked interventions are given a relatively larger share of resources than lower ranked interventions according to some “curve of coverage.”

The aim of this article is to provide a normative analysis of how the background set of ethical norms and other considerations support these two views.

The result of the analysis shows that rationing from the bottom generally gets stronger support if taking background ethical norms seriously, and with regard to the extent the ranking succeeds in realising these norms. However, in non-ideal rankings and to handle variations at individual patient level, there is support for relative coverage at the borderline of what could be covered. A more general relative coverage curve could also be supported if there is a need to generate resources for the healthcare system, by getting patients back into production and getting acceptance for priority setting decisions.

Hence, different types of reasons support different deviations from rationing from the bottom. And it should be noted that the two latter reasons will imply a cost in terms of not living up to the background set of ethical norms.


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  • Receive Date: 15 December 2016
  • Revise Date: 09 October 2017
  • Accept Date: 10 October 2017
  • First Publish Date: 01 June 2018