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David Brown over at the Washington Post wrote an article yesterday noting that prevention isn’t necessarily cheaper than “doing nothing” and letting people get sick. Well, “Duh,” I say.

Prevention is an intervention, it’s just an intervention that occurs prior to disease onset rather than after. I’m not sure where the argument is here. The results — longer, healthier lives — aren’t measured in dollars (unless you account for loss productivity or economic loss from a shortened life). What cost would you put on an extra year of life on a person’s life? $1,000? $10,000? $100,000?

The real answer is that prevention saves money and lives in some cases, and costs money but still saves lives in others. The only reason “prevention” looks more expensive in the mathematical models done by the Dutch researchers in the Feb. issue of PLoS Medicine is because the healthier people lived the longest.

So yeah, if economics is the sole yardstick, people who die earlier are always going to skew the results to the sicker people who die sooner. Luckily, health care isn’t doled out by economics, but by doctors and researchers looking to help people. Help them not just with an episodic illness, but also to understand how to prevent or reduce the risk of future episodes of illness.