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Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 2nd November 2020

Every Monday our authors provide a round-up of the latest peer-reviewed journal publications. We cover all issues of major health economics journals as well as some other notable releases. If you’d like to write one of our weekly journal round-ups, get in touch.

Health Economics

Volume 29, Issue 11

These days, I feel I ought to lead my round-ups with any COVID-19 research that makes an appearance. The latest issue of Health Economics has a short paper, highlighting the importance of the way COVID-19 graphs are presented. Based on an experimental study with 2,000 participants, the authors demonstrate that showing people death counts on a log scale leads them to make less accurate inferences. This influences opinions on the most appropriate policy responses. It turns out people don’t think in logarithms.

Most of the studies in this issue combine theoretical models with applied microeconometric analyses. But, before we get to that, I’ll highlight a nice little study testing the validity of time trade-off and standard gamble techniques. The researchers asked a group of students to complete TTO and SG tasks and to then review their own resulting health state valuations. Participants were more satisfied with the health state valuations resulting from TTO, which gives TTO some legitimacy over SG. Participants also tended to think that the values were overestimates.

There are now countless papers looking at the impact of recent Medicaid expansions in the US, but few look at indirect effects. A study in this issue explores the effect on people’s drinks choices. The authors hypothesised that there may be an increase in the consumption of unhealthy soft drinks associated with an (increased) income effect, while greater access to nutrition education may reduce consumption. Based on household data, it seems that consumption of diet soft drinks increased. On a similar topic, another study from the US looked at the impact of sugary drinks taxes, adding to the evidence that consumption of soft drinks is tax-sensitive. However, the authors’ findings show that adolescents substitute their sodas for milk-based drinks, which contain plenty of sugar and offset the impact of the tax on calorie consumption; yet another reason to stop subsidising the dairy industry.

The issue also includes other articles on public health policy, one concerning electronic cigarettes and another presenting a theory on seat belts and organ donation.

On a very different subject, there’s a study exploring the impact of conflict on children’s health in Northern Mali. The authors look at the intensity of conflict, as indicated by the number of deaths close to communities, and the children’s height and weight within a difference-in-differences framework. The more intense the conflict, the greater the (negative) impact on children’s height. Exposure in utero was more important than exposure after birth, implying that it is the effect on maternal health (e.g. stress) that is the underlying mechanism.

There are also articles in this issue on efficiency savings in Italy, an evaluation of a change in physician remuneration in Canada, and a study looking at the effect of contracting out public insurance provision in the US.

Oxford Review of Economic Policy

Volume 36, Issue Supplement 1

Here we have a whole special issue supplement with 22 articles on COVID-19. As you might expect, the majority of the papers make little empirical contribution. But there’s plenty of new ideas and discussion. The issue starts with an introductory essay highlighting the focus of the issue as being on policy responses and reforms and the importance of adopting an international perspective.

One study claims to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of ‘the disease’. I’m not sure what the benefits of the disease are meant to be, but the analysis tries to estimate an optimal policy response for the UK context. The headline finding is that a 10-week lockdown is only efficient if we value the life of somebody who dies from COVID-19 at over £10 million. Given the situation in which we now find ourselves in the UK, on the eve of a new lockdown with no end in sight, the model seems a bit sketchy. £10 million isn’t all that far from some estimates of the value of a statistical life (VSL) for the UK, but I’d still take it with a pinch of salt. Not least because, as another article explains, VSL estimates – like everything else – don’t work the same in a post-COVID world. The magnitude and nature of risk is on another level to that used as the basis of VSL estimates, and looking at your ‘average’ person makes little sense when risk is not shared equally across the population.

There are a couple of articles making recommendations for testing strategies, which are especially important as the UK heads into a new lockdown. One proposal is to conduct stratified periodic testing, whereby people in higher-risk groups are tested at regular intervals. Another proposal is for ‘adaptive targeted‘ testing, based on a dynamic model accounting for the trade-off between informing prevalence and identifying individual cases.

Several articles look at international policy and cooperation, including one article, written by the Gordon Brown, arguing that COVID-19 control measures should be considered to be ‘global public goods’ in need of international cooperation. Another article argues that emerging market economies should be supported to provide a strong fiscal response through action from the G20 and the IMF. There are also articles providing recommendations for low- and middle-income countries, such as supporting more varied programmes for social protection, and one study reporting on policy simulations for Sub-Saharan Africa.

A handful of articles are concerned with finance, including a study comparing the impact on the financial system during COVID-19 and the Great Recession. There are also articles on trade finance, microfinance, and opportunities for regional development through financial reform in the UK.

More interesting to me are the articles relating to bigger societal challenges. One study reports on the findings from a survey of experts about the opportunity for a green fiscal recovery to tackle climate change. Another study reports on data collected from families in the UK to provide insight into childcare during the pandemic. No surprise, women get a bad deal, picking up the majority of a working week’s worth of childcare; on average 10 hours more than men. Another study looks at the future of immigration policy in the UK, where many low-skilled workers have gained some respect as ‘key workers’.

And there’s plenty more, on topics such as supply and demand shocks and the impact of COVID-19 and policy responses on household income and the labour market in the UK. Other authors consider fiscal responses and public sector capacity, and how businesses can respond to the crisis.


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  • Chris Sampson

    Founder of the Academic Health Economists' Blog. Senior Principal Economist at the Office of Health Economics. ORCID: 0000-0001-9470-2369

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