Government policies and services can be hard to navigate for people
who are already under pressure. By understanding the effects of scarcity,
we can make these easier to access for the people who need them.
For public health, the key question is: When it is beneficial to charge a price for an intervention and when it is not? Research has shown that the best price for many prevention efforts is free, explains Cohen. It may not make economic or public health sense, but we human beings are much less likely to take steps to prevent illness than to treat it. We procrastinate. We forget. “If, on top of that, it costs something, then demand for preventive products like bed nets is too low,” she says.
The behavioral economics of treatment is a different story. People recognize that they need it and are much more willing to pay. But there’s a sweet spot between charging too much, so people can’t afford the treatment, and charging too little, which can lead to indiscriminate and inappropriate use of a treatment.