Financial protection from health spending in the Philippines: policies and progress

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Abstract

The objective of this article is to assess the progress of the Philippines health sector in providing financial protection to the population, as measured by estimates of health insurance coverage, out-of-pocket spending, catastrophic payments and impoverishing health expenditures. Data are drawn from eight household surveys between 2000 and 2013, including two Demographic and Health Surveys, one Family Health Survey and five Family Income and Expenditure Surveys. We find that out-of-pocket spending increased by 150% (real) from 2000 to 2012, with the sharpest increases occurring in recent years. The main driver of health spending is medicines, accounting for almost two-thirds of total health spending, and as much as three-quarters among the poor. The incidence of catastrophic payments has tripled since 2000, from 2.5% to 7.7%. The percentage of people impoverished by health spending has also increased and, in 2012, out-of-pocket spending on health added 1.5 percentage points to the poverty rate, pushing more than 1.5 million people into poverty. In light of these findings, recent policies to enhance financial risk protection—such as the expansion of government-subsidized health insurance from the poor to the near-poor, a policy of zero copayments for the poor, a deepening of the benefit package and provider payment reform aimed at cost-containment—are to be commended. Indeed, between 2008 and 2013, self-reported health insurance coverage increased across all quintiles and its distribution became more pro-poor. To speed progress toward financial protection goals, quick wins could include issuing health insurance cards to the poor to increase awareness of coverage and limiting out-of-pocket spending by clearly defining a clear copayment structure for non-poor members. An in-depth analysis of the pharmaceutical sector would help to shed light on why medicines impose such a large financial burden on households.

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