Affordable healthcare at what cost?

Professor Francesco Paolucci is an internationally acclaimed scholar and advisor using research to enhance policy in economics and public health, resulting in more equitable and efficient healthcare for communities worldwide.

Professor Francesco Paolucci

Healthcare systems are complex by design; is it better to pay top dollar for private health insurance, or does it make more sense to rely on public healthcare instead? Is the current approach to financing Australian healthcare really the best option for Australians, or is there an alternative that would work better?

Attempting to answer these and other questions, Professor Francesco Paolucci has spent two decades analysing global healthcare systems—including working with governments, public and private agencies and industry globally—with the aim of creating more accessible and efficient care for patients as well as greater efficiency and value for stakeholders worldwide.

“My work has multiple high-level goals,” explains Professor Paolucci. “Firstly, it aims to help address healthcare system inefficiencies and inequalities in Australia and overseas. It also supports government and industry to articulate structural reforms and design policies to address access, affordability, universal coverage to improve health outcomes.”

“Ultimately to improve and reward performance in healthcare systems we need a multi-skilled workforce. Hence my work has always focused on developing educational and training programs in these areas. Like our new suite of health economics management and policy programs”.

To achieve these goals, Francesco works to unpack complex issues in international health policy, such as “affordability of healthcare”, “fairness of access” and “the efficiency of healthcare systems”. In Australia, tackling these larger issues involves examinations of current healthcare financing arrangements and the complex relationships between private health insurance and Medicare, the nation’s publicly funded universal healthcare system—with the purpose of informing improved policy solutions.

Francesco also currently serves as the Australian representative at the Risk Adjustment Network (RAN).This global network was founded by economists and practitioners from top institutions both public and private  to endorse an international exchange of knowledge to advance design and implementation of policies that regulated healthcare financing and insurance worldwide, specifically risk adjustment and risk equalisation, and risk sharing scheme, which helps to ensure insurance premiums remain fair and reasonable, and protects disadvantaged community groups from insurance discrimination. The RAN also helps communicate this scientific knowledge to governments, so that evidence can guide future health insurance policies.

“We need industry and government to understand the value of appropriate risk classification and data sharing in healthcare and the importance of health data analytics in bringing about evidence-based change that benefits patients and people—especially for high-risk and low-income groups.”

“Ultimately, we want to improve how health systems respond to the needs of the vulnerable, in regard to effectiveness, equitably and affordably.”

Leading global health reform

Professor Paolucci’s work is not confined to Australia, either; he has worked internationally, from his current positions as Professor of Health Economics and Policy with the University of Newcastle and the University of Bologna, Italy, to his former role as Chief Economic Advisor to the Minister of Health in Chile. In this significant advisory role with the Government of Chile, Francesco led the design of the country’s new Health Insurance Act (2018). His team analysed the economic, actuarial and econometric costs of the new universal health plan and looked at government and regulatory tools that could oversee and monitor the new marketplace.

This is also not the first time his work has led to change:

“My work for governments and industry has translated into policies and reforms which have transformed healthcare systems by making them more accessible and efficient in a number of countries.”

The international network that Francesco has developed gives him the ability to conduct a wide variety of research in other national healthcare contexts—including in places like, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Qatar—giving his work an international perspective that can provide impactful lessons for policymakers both at home and abroad.  Driven by his understanding of the power of international knowledge transfer to improve health policy, Francesco created the University of Newcastle’s very own health economics and policy group: Value in Health Economics and Policy (VheP).

The creation of VheP also proved to be very timely; when the Covid-19 pandemic began, Francesco had already ensured that the group was ready to respond. Co-ordinating and editing a collaboration of over 80 researchers from around the world, led to the creation of a special issue for the journal Health Policy and Technology, comprising articles that draw numerous lessons about effective pandemic policy from over 25 different countries. He also contributed as an author to several of these articles, such as one detailing  The first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain and another about Categorising Policy & Technology Interventions for the Pandemic.

Knowledge transfer and translation

Professor Paolucci also understands the importance of translation to maximize the positive impact of his work and has designed and developed curricula at the postgraduate level for delivery on-campus, online, blended and transnationally in multiple universities worldwide. His most recent work is the development and implementation of the new Master Programs and Graduate Certificates in Health Economics, Management, and Policy (HEMP) here at the University of Newcastle. where Francesco was able to draw extensively from his previous experience with the international joint European Master of Health Economics and Management (Eu-HEM) in partnership with the University of Oslo, the University of Bologna, Management Centre, Innsbruck, and Erasmus University Rotterdam, and the Health Administration, Policy and Leadership (MHAPL) program at Murdoch University.

“Alongside my research and policy consultancy work, I am committed to addressing the global gap in health economics management and policy literacy through the development of courses and training programs in these areas.”

In addition to his work in program creation, Francesco is also a valued supervisor with the University of Newcastle, providing research and academic guidance for postgraduate students—many of whom are inspired to follow in his footsteps towards the advancement of the field of health economics and the improvement of global health outcomes.

“My students are contributing to society in many ways, in various parts of the world, and some have even publicly acknowledged that their enterprises were inspired by my courses.”

His work includes more than 55 peer-reviewed articles in world-class journals (and in multiple languages) such as the European Journal of Health Economics, as well as keynote conference speaking book chapters, book reviews and a single-authored book.

In all aspects of his work, Francesco is motivated by a deep commitment to global change and progress in health systems—especially for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

“In the last 200-300 years, we have seen health system successes that have helped to move more and more of the world out of poverty and away from disease. It is my personal and professional conviction that at the centre of sustainable societies there must be healthcare systems designed to improve wellbeing and welfare—these structures are pivotal for change.”

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.