Background Decision-making in healthcare policy involves assessing both costs and benefits. In determining the cost-effectiveness (CE) threshold, willingness to pay (WTP) per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), GDP per capita, and other factors are important. However, the relationship between WTP/QALY or GDP per capita and the CE threshold is unclear. It is important to clarify the relationship between WTP/QALY and GDP to provide a clear basis for setting the CE threshold. Objective The purpose of this study was to compare WTP/QALY and GDP per capita, and to develop a new CE threshold range based on WTP using GDP per capita. The relationship between WTP/QALY and healthy life expectancy (HALE) was also investigated. Methods We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and Web of Science from 1980/01/01 to 2020/12/31 using the following selection criteria (latest search: Dec 2021):1, studies that estimated WTP/QALY; 2, the general population was surveyed; 3, the article was in English. From the collected articles, we obtained average values of WTP/QALY for various countries and compared WTP/QALY with GDP per capita. The correlation between WTP/QALY and HALE was also examined. Results We identified 20 papers from 17 countries. Comparison of mean WTP/QALY values with GDP per capita showed that most WTP/QALY values were in the range of 0.5-1.5 times GDP per capita, though the median values were less than 0.5 times. Comparison of WTP/ QALY with HALE showed a statistically significant positive correlation when Taiwan was excluded as an outlier. Conclusions Our results suggest a CE threshold range of 0.5-1.5 times GDP per capita is appropriate but lower than the WHO-recommended range of 1-3 times. The correlation between WTP/ QALY and HALE suggests that investment in healthcare is reflected in an increased healthy life expectancy. Since WTP is based on consumer preferences, this range could be used to set a generally acceptable criterion.
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