AzPHA member J. Mac McCullough, PhD, MPH, who serves as an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and Health Economist at Maricopa County Department of Public Health was commissioned by AcademyHealth to write a research synthesis examining the return on investment for public health funding.
Federal, state, and local agencies spend approximately $250 per person per year on the public health system, whereas more than $10,000 is spent on health care per person per year. Public health spending has been falling as proportion of total health spending since approximately 2000 and falling in inflation-adjusted terms since the Great Recession. These declines have resulted in cuts to the public health workforce and to public health program portfolios.
While linking public health and health care spending to improved health outcomes can be tricky, the body of evidence supporting prevention is strong. For example, we know that investment in tobacco cessation can save $2-3 for every $1 invested and that childhood vaccinations can save $5-11 for every $1 invested.
One especially relevant set of studies utilized a unique dataset of public health department expenditures in California. Researchers used instrumental variables to show that a $10 increase in per capita spending led to a 0.6 percent increase in the proportion of the population in very good or excellent health4 and reduced all cause mortality by 9.1 per 100,000.23 Researchers monetized these estimates to determine that every $1 invested in public health in California resulted in $67 to $88 of benefits to society.24
a 2017 systematic review of international studies found that spending for individual public health interventions, services, or policies had a median ROI of $14.30 per $1 invested.