Health Care Economics

Explore the economic forces shaping US health care

Taught by Harvard Medical School faculty, this Harvard Online course provides insights into the interactions between industries in the US health care sector and teaches what economic forces are shaping health care.

Featuring faculty from:
July 2024
6 weeks
3-4 hours a week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Applications Close
Course Calendar
October 2024
6 weeks
3-4 hours a week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Applications Close
Course Calendar
Apply today for Health Care Economics

What You'll Learn

Why is health care spending so high in the US? What are the primary drivers of rising health care costs? What is the relationship between finance and health care? How does money shape your decision-making as a patient, provider, or payer? Is a sustainable healthcare architecture possible?

Even for those within the health care industry, the economics of the United States health care system are stunningly complex and can be challenging to navigate. In Health Care Economics, gain insights into the interactions between industries in the health care sector and learn what economic forces are shaping health care. You will cover core topics in health care economics, such as moral hazard and adverse selection, and examine how these forces, as well as the actions of patients, providers, and other key stakeholders, shape outcomes in the health care market.

Balancing the needs of patients and purchasers is a daily struggle for health care leaders and central to the success of any health care business. To make this happen, clinical, research, operational, and financial leaders need a shared understanding of the true drivers of health care spending, the policies that shape and define the sector, and how financial incentives impact both patient and provider behavior. This course will examine health care spending growth, considering new technologies and other economic factors, and explore the theoretical framework behind controlling spending growth through changes to benefit design and payment reform.

Delivered via Harvard Business School Online’s innovative course platform, Health Care Economics features real-world examples, interactive lessons, and conversations with industry experts. Led by Harvard Medical School professor Michael Chernew, PhD, Chair of The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), this course allows you to gain a better understanding of core economic principles as you learn how to create more compelling programs, develop more effective growth strategies, negotiate better reimbursement contracts and partnerships, and advocate more effectively both inside and outside your organization.

The Harvard Medical School is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

The Harvard Medical School designates this enduring material for a maximum of 19.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Upon successful completion of the course, participants will have access to claim their credits through the Harvard Medical School’s continuing education platform.

The course is part of the Health Care Leadership Learning Path and will be delivered via HBS Online’s course platform.  Learners will be immersed in real-world examples from experts at industry-leading organizations. By the end of the course, participants will be able to:


  • Articulate the drivers of spending and spending growth in health care and evaluate how your organization’s strategy and decision-making processes impact total spending as well as value
  • Describe approaches to getting the incentives right for both providers and patients and evaluate the impacts of changes to these incentives
  • Understand risk and pooling as they relate to insurance markets and health benefit design
  • Define the role of employers, insurers, and government in influencing the economics of health care markets, such as spending, access to care, and stability of insurance markets
  • Explain how technology and patients’ and providers’ decisions contribute to high spending and spending growth, and how they impact their own organizations

Your Instructor

Michael Chernew, PhD, is the Leonard D. Schaeffer Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Chernew’s research examines several areas related to improving the health care system, including studies of novel benefit designs, Medicare Advantage, alternative payment models, low-value care, and the causes and consequences of rising health care spending. Dr. Chernew is currently serving as Chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), where he previously served as the Vice Chair and as a Member. In 2000, 2004, and 2010, he served on technical advisory panels for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that reviewed the assumptions used by Medicare actuaries to assess the financial status of Medicare trust funds. He's a member of the Congressional Budget Office’s Panel of Health Advisors and Vice Chair of the Massachusetts Health Connector Board. Dr. Chernew is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Senior Visiting Fellow at MITRE. He's currently a co-editor of the American Journal of Managed Care and on advisory boards for several private companies in the health care space, including Virta Health, Archway, and HEALTH[at]SCALE.

Real World Case Studies

Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

Dr. Matthew Hutter


Dr. Matthew Hutter is a Professor in Surgery at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Codman Center for Clinical Effectiveness in Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. He will share his perspective on how new technologies can have unexpected consequences in terms of cost and utilization of care.
Sandhya Rao


Dr. Sandhya Rao is chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the largest private health plan in Massachusetts. Learn from Rao about the challenges in health insurance today.

Joseph Newhouse


Joseph Newhouse is the Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University and the Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education. Explore the striking and unexpected results of the RAND health insurance experiment and patients’ response to higher copays and deductibles with Professor Newhouse.

Available Discounts and Benefits for Groups and Individuals

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Experience Harvard Online by utilizing our wide variety of discount programs for individuals and groups. 


Past Participant Discounts

Learners who have enrolled in at least one qualifying Harvard Online program hosted on the HBS Online platform are eligible to receive a 30% discount on this course, regardless of completion or certificate status in the first purchased program. Past Participant Discounts are automatically applied to the Program Fee upon time of payment.  Learn more here.

Learners who have earned a verified certificate for a HarvardX course hosted on the edX platform are eligible to receive a 30% discount on this course using a discount code. Discounts are not available after you've submitted payment, so if you think you are eligible for a discount on a registration, please check your email for a code or contact us.

Nonprofit, Government, Military, and Education Discounts

For this course we offer a 30% discount for learners who work in the nonprofit, government, military, or education fields. 

Eligibility is determined by a prospective learner’s email address, ending in .org, .gov, .mil, or .edu. Interested learners can apply below for the discount and, if eligible, will receive a promo code to enter when completing payment information to enroll in a Harvard Online program. Click here to apply for these discounts.

Gather your team to experience Health Care Economics and other Harvard Online courses to enjoy the benefits of learning together: 

  • Single invoicing for groups of 10 or more
  • Tiered discounts and pricing available with up to 50% off
  • Growth reports on your team's progress
  • Flexible course and partnership plans 

Learn more and enroll your team

Who Will Benefit

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Rising Leaders

Develop a comprehensive understanding of the health care landscape, including the key drivers of rising US health care spending.

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Administrators and Policy Makers

Gain insights into strategic decisions around new business initiatives, health benefit plans, reimbursement contract negotiations, and care delivery models.

Medical Providers


Understand the financial impacts of new technologies and services and how to create value-based care for patients.

Learner Testimonials

“This is an amazing course. The professor did a fantastic job dissecting the complexities of healthcare into chewable chunks.”

Howard H. Dinh, MD, FACC
Medical Director, Cardiac Services, Greater Sacramento
The Permanente Medical Group and Chief, Cardiology, Kaiser Permanente, South Sacramento

“This is now my fourth HBS online course that I have taken. I love that the format lets me learn asynchronously when I have time in my busy schedule. The HBS courses do a wonderful job encouraging interaction with peer learners which amplifies the learning. The HBS courses foster this peer engagement much more effectively than I have found in other online courses that I have taken.”

Denver Sallee III, MD
Chief Financial Officer, Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Emory University School of Medicine

“This is a very well designed course to understand the nuances of the US healthcare system economics. The videos and the guest talks were very helpful to understand the real world examples. The discussion surrounding the RAND experiment was very useful to understand many key concepts. Overall a very good course.”

Krishna K. Chotneeru, MPH
Associate Director, Data Science & Statistics
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals


Syllabus and Upcoming Calendars

Health Care Economics provides insights into the interactions between industries in the health care sector and teaches what economic forces are shaping health care.

Learning requirements: There are no required prerequisites to enroll in this course. In order to earn a Certificate of Completion from Harvard Online, participants must thoughtfully complete all 6 modules, including associated assessments, by stated deadlines.

Download Full Syllabus

Download October 2023 Calendar 

Download January 2024 Calendar 

  • Why is health care so expensive?
  • Why is health care spending growing?
  • Make health care spending growth predictions.
  • Compare US health care costs to costs in other countries.
  • Analyze the math behind health care spending.
  • Examine sources of waste in the health care industry.
  • Explore the role of technology in health care spending growth.
  • What role should patients play in making important choices about their care?
  • What role should money play in the decisions of patients?
  • Interpret demand curves.
  • Explore willingness to pay for health care.
  • Evaluate different solutions to inefficient consumption of care, such as moral hazard.
  • What role should the provider play in determining care patterns?
  • How do provider behavior and competition influence care?
  • Analyze clinical decision-making.
  • Recognize supplier-induced demand and the consequences of the medical arms race.
  • Explore practice ownership trends.
  • Determine whether prevention programs and care coordination are cost saving.
  • What is the role of insurance in health care?
  • Why is the risk pool for health insurance so important and how do we manage it?
  • Explore risk preferences.
  • Calculate actuarially fair premiums to understand what health insurance is and how it works.
  • Examine solutions for solving some of the problems with insurance.
  • Evaluate policy proposals for dealing with information asymmetry and adverse selection.
  • How can we design insurance plans to promote efficient consumer decision-making?
  •  Explore patient decision-making in health care.
  • Analyze different approaches for improving patient incentives.
  • Understand the benefits of value based care and insurance.
  • Strategies for implementing value-based healthcare and insurance designs.
  • How do we structure payments to promote efficient provider decision-making?
  • Explore provider decision-making in health care.
  • Analyze different approaches for improving provider incentives.

Earn Your Certificate

Enroll today in Harvard Online's Health Care Economics course.

Apply Now

Still Have Questions?

What are the learning requirements? How do I list my certificate on my resume? Learn the answers to these and more in our FAQs.


Health Care Economics Certificate

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