This introductory chapter discusses the coverage of this volume about the economics of improving health and the returns to medical research. The central issue addressed in the volume is whether this extraordinary national commitment to medical research is worthwhile. The chapters are from the Economics of Medical Research conference held in Washington D.C. in December 1999. This chapter argues that advances in medical knowledge, borne of medical research, are a major source of longer and healthier lives; that the value of gains in health over the past half century appears to have far outstripped the comparatively modest investments in medical research and development; and that it is plausible that future investments can yield “extraordinary returns.”
Keywords: medical research, medical knowledge, healthier lives, national commitment, conference, Washington D.C.