Linking Costs to Health Outcomes for Allocating Scarce Public Health Resources


Introduction: Resources for public health (PH) are scarce and policymakers face tough decisions in determining their funding priorities. The difficulty of making these decisions is compounded by current PH accounting systems, which are ill-equipped to link fiscal resources to PH outcomes. This paper examines the types of revenues and expenditures, health services, and health outcomes that are being tracked at the local and state PH levels. The authors provide recommendations for strengthening the ability of local and state governments to link expenditures to PH outcomes, both within and across jurisdictions.

Framework and Next Steps: The source of revenue data for most local jurisdictions is the accounting systems used for the budgeting and auditing of fiscal activities, and these are primarily linked to specific PH programs. In contrast, expenditure data are mostly generic and typically span multiple PH programs with no link to specific PH activities. Many challenges exist to then link PH activities to health outcomes data, which are often collected through separate reporting systems at the local, state, and national levels. Policy change at the state level and implementation strategies that are standardized across local health departments are required to assess the costs and health outcomes of PH activities.

Conclusion: Information linking PH expenditures to health outcomes of PH services could greatly inform the decision-making process. This information will allow investments in PH to be better understood and will provide a strong foundation for the PH services and systems research community to understand variation and drive improvement. Ultimately, these data could be used to improve accountability at the local and state PH department levels.