Questions regarding 'epistemic injustice' in knowledge-intensive policymaking: Two examples from Dutch health insurance policy

Floortje Moes*, Eddy Houwaart, Diana Delnoij, Klasien Horstman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In contemporary healthcare policies the logic of Evidence-based Medicine (EBM) is typically proposed as a way of addressing a demand to explicitly justify policy decisions. Policymakers' use of 'evidence' is presumed to pertain to ideals of justice in decision-making. However, according to some, EBM is liable to generate 'epistemic injustice' because it prefers quantitative types of evidence and - as a result of that - potentially undervalues the qualitative testimonies of doctors and patients. Miranda Fricker's concept of 'epistemic injustice' refers to a wrong done to a person in their capacity as a knower. This paper explores the usefulness and limits of this concept in the context of public decision-making. How is evidence-based policymaking intertwined with questions of 'epistemic injustice'? Drawing from ethnographic research conducted at the National Health Care Institute, we analyze two cases of EBM-inspired policy practices in Dutch social health insurance: 1) the use of the principles of EBM in making a public reimbursement decision, and 2) private insurers' use of quantitative performance indicators for the practice of selective contracting on the Dutch healthcare market. While the concept of 'epistemic injustice' misses some key processes involved in understanding how 'knowing gets done' in public policy, it does shed new light on priority-setting processes. Patients or medical professionals who are not duly recognized as credible and intelligible epistemic agents, subsequently, lack the social power to influence priority-setting practices. They are thus not merely frustrated in their capacity to be heard and make themselves understood, they are potentially deprived of a fair share in collective financial and medical resources. If we fail to recognize inequalities in credibility and intelligibility between diverse groups of knowers, there is a chance that these epistemic inequalities are being reproduced in our system of health insurance and our ways of distributing healthcare provisions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112674
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • The Netherlands
  • Epistemic injustice
  • Priority-setting
  • Public decision-making
  • Reimbursement
  • Selective contracting
  • Health insurance


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