Can the real opportunity cost stand up: displaced services, the straw man outside the room
In current literature, displaced services have been suggested to provide a basis for determining a threshold value for the effects of a new technology as part of a reimbursement process when budgets are fixed. We critically examine the conditions under which displaced services would represent an economically meaningful threshold value. We first show that if we assume that the least cost-effective services are displaced to finance a new technology, then the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of the displaced services (d) only coincides with that related to the opportunity cost of adopting that new technology, the ICER of the most cost-effective service in expansion (n), under highly restrictive conditions—namely, complete allocative efficiency in existing provision of health care interventions. More generally, reimbursement of new technology with a fixed budget comprises two actions; adoption and financing through displacement and the effect of reimbursement is the net effect of these two actions. In order for the reimbursement process to be a pathway to allocative efficiency within a fixed budget, the net effect of the strategy of reimbursement is compared with the most cost-effective alternative strategy for reimbursement: optimal reallocation, the health gain maximizing expansion of existing services financed by the health loss minimizing contraction. The shadow price of the health effects of a new technology, β c =(1 n +1 d −1 m ) −1 , accounts for both imperfect displacement (the ICER of the displaced service, d < m, the ICER of the least cost-effective of the existing services in contraction) and the allocative inefficiency (n < m) characteristic of health systems.