Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Cost to Save a Life

This interesting 1994 paper purports to show how much we spend via various safety interventions to save a single year of life. The numbers vary enormously. I don't trust all of their medical numbers, but they at least give you some idea of the comparative cost-effectiveness of various treatments. A sample:

Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Laws $2000
National 55-mph speed limit $30,000
Compulsory annual motor vehicle inspection $20,000
Ground fault circuit interrupters $1,100,000
Chlorination of Drinking Water $3,100
Detoxification for heroin addicts <$0
Screen blood donors for HIV $14,000
Screen donated blood for HIV $880,000
Prenatal care for pregnant women <$0
PKU genetic screening for newborns <$0
Sickle cell screening for black newborns $110,000
Sickle cell screening for non-black low risk newborns $34,000,000,000

The numbers for all childhood immunizations are less than zero, that is, they save more in health care spending than they cost even before you get into the question of lives saved. In general, it is very expensive to save a life by reducing our exposure to environmental toxins, compared to mechanical or medical interventions.

These are my favorite numbers:

Flammability Standards for Children's Sleepware, Size 0-6 <$0
Flammability Standards for Children's Sleepware, Size 7-14 $15,000,000

Fireproofing the clothing of babies and toddlers is a really good idea that saves lives and pays for itself in reduced health care costs; fireproofing the clothing of children big enough to slap out small fires themselves is kind of stupid.

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