HP 429 – Behavioural Incentives in Health and Health Care

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joan Costa-Font OLD.1.16


This course is available on the MSc Health Policy, Planning and Financing, MSc in Global Health, MSc in International Health Policy and MSc in International Health Policy (Health Economics). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Access to the course will be given in priority to students from the Health Department, and the course will be capped to 30.


Knowledge of basic economics is helpful.

Course content

The course covers the role of social and monetary incentives in modifying related health behaviour, and especially prevention and health care use. It will primarily draw on theoretical frameworks from several social sciences including applied microeconomics and behavioural economics, psychology, and sociology to provide an integrated framework about how to think about incentives in health and health care. The course will draw on theory and evidence mainly from both natural (both randomised controlled and not) and policy experiments where results can prove evidence of external validity and link the evidence with a behavioural theoretical framework to guide policy and institutional design in health and health care.

The course will focus on the following issues: Quasi-rational actor and motivation. Risk-benefit decision-making framework. Cognitive Biases and Health Behaviour. Bayesian Learning. Time preferences and Discounting. Risk preferences and perceptions. Locus of Control and Health and Health Care Behaviour. Emotional decision making. Anchoring and social cues. Taxes and Health: the role of Sin Taxes. Subsidies and Health: the role of conditional cash transfers. Cognitive Biases in Insurance Purchase: the case of long-term care insurance. Defaults and Presumed Consent. Motivation Crowding-Out and Organ Donation. Information provision: risk information campaigns on food labeling, GM food. Stigma and Esteem: Smoking, Obesity. Cultural economics of health and health care: the role of traditional medicines. Body Self-Identity and Anorexia. Sleep and working time trade-off. Media, narratives, and health-related behavior. Culture, social norms: use of traditional medicine. Identity and blood donation, Food disorders. Health Inequality Aversion and Attitudes to Health Care.

Behavioural incentives private and public health insurance design.


1. Extend and complement health economics questions that overlap with behavioral science and are not covered in existing health economics and policy courses.

2. Analyse drawing on behavioral economics concepts to health policy interventions and the organization of health system.

3. Learn transferable skills to understand the role of incentive design for health promotion
4. Conceptualise behavioral incentive design of health services

5. Evaluate the behavioral responses to different incentives for health and health care use

6. Think creatively about natural and policy experiments


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the Week 5.

The essay will have a word limit of 1500 words.

Indicative reading

Cawley, J., & Ruhm, C. (2011). The economics of risky health behaviors (No. w17081). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Costa-Font, J. (2011). Behavioural Welfare Economics: Does ‘Behavioural Optimality’Matter?. CESifo Economic Studies.

Costa-Font, J., & Macis, M. (2017). Social economics: current and emerging avenues. MIT Press.

Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. (2003). Do defaults save lives?. Science, 302(5649), 1338-1339.

Baicker, K., Congdon, W. J., & Mullainathan, S. (2012). Health Insurance Coverage and Take‐Up: Lessons from Behavioural Economics. Milbank Quarterly, 90(1), 107-134.

Frank, R. G. (2004). Behavioural economics and health economics (No. w10881). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Roberto, C. A., & Kawachi, I. (Eds.). (2015). Behavioural economics and public health. Oxford University Press.


Exam (75%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Project (25%, 4500 words) in the Week 8.

The project will be a group work project.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2017/18: Unavailable

Average class size 2017/18: Unavailable

Controlled access 2017/18: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills