Public Health Economics

Our public health economists play a leading role in optimizing scarce resources to improve health outcomes. Providing assistance to local, state, national, and international governments and organizations, we apply innovative methods and strategies to match client need with an appropriate plan of research.

Our researchers work in interdisciplinary teams to conduct evidence-based research to help policy makers prioritize health problems, prevention and treatment options, and resource allocation.

Public Health Economics Research Methods/Approaches

No single economic measure or tool is considered standard for evaluating the effectiveness and resource efficiency of a public health practice, program, or intervention. However, the precision and thoroughness of economic analyses affect financial outlays and health outcomes, including quality and length of life.

Policy makers require expert evaluation using the most technically accurate, up-to-date, and scientifically sound approaches for their decision making. To help inform decisions about effective and efficient use of resources, our public health economists conduct various kinds of economic research, including the following:

  • Burden of disease evaluation: Measuring the direct medical costs as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity due to diseases and injuries
  • Cost-effectiveness evaluation: Evaluating the effectiveness of interventions to prevent or treat specific diseases compared to the costs of the interventions
  • Creation of innovative software such as the Obesity Cost Calculator
  • Methodological research to improve measurement strategies for disease cost estimation, including identification of econometric approaches and innovative modeling techniques

RTI Public Health Economics Research Projects

The research we conduct addresses a broad range of health challenges. Listed below are examples of some of our recent projects.

Burden of Disease/Cost of Illness Research

  • Economic evaluation of the burden of injuries in the United States, including cost of injuries and cost of lost productivity
  • National and state-level analyses of the medical costs of obesity and lack of physical activity
  • Evaluation of the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence and child maltreatment
  • Economic evaluation of the burden of visual disorders, especially on federal and state budgets
  • Cost-of-illness summaries of direct and indirect costs for selected conditions
  • Economic analysis of the burden of cardiovascular diseases for the elderly

Cost-Effectiveness Research

  • Cost-effectiveness study of the impact of immunization funding on rates of childhood vaccinations
  • Cost-effectiveness evaluation of WISEWOMAN, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative targeting low-income women ages 40 to 64 to help prevent and control cardiovascular and other chronic diseases
  • Economic evaluation of school programs to discourage intimate partner violence
  • Cost-effectiveness assessment of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), which provides cancer screening to low-income women throughout the United States
  • Economic evaluation of the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR)

Cost-Benefit Research and Other Evaluations

  • Cost-benefit analysis of the implementation of computerized admission and clinical decision support for long-term care facilities
  • Cost-benefit analysis of bariatric surgery for obese patients
  • Needs assessment of influenza vaccinations
  • Needs assessment of Ryan White Care Act services based on characteristics of patients and service delivery areas
  • Evaluation of the impact of New York State's Balanced Budget Act on Graduate Medical Education

RTI's Public Health Economics Research Clients

Examples of our clients include the following agencies that manage resources and make critical decisions affecting the public's health.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Health Resources and Services Administration
  • National Cancer Institute
Study: Taxing sugary beverages by calorie more efficient than ounce-based tax

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages by calorie may be more efficient in improving public health than an ounce-based tax,... Read more »


Thomas J. Hoerger
Senior Fellow, Health Economics and Financing