The purpose of this page is learning, information dissemination, and scientific debate for those interested in Egypt's public health and its linkages to human development and social justice. In doing so, this page is committed to have a neutral stand and to present all views equally. This blog is based on the work of different experts in their field.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Analyzing Universal Coverage of Health Care in Egypt

Egypt's Road towards Social Health Insurance - The Road to be Traveled (3)

Coverage could be analyzed in terms of breadth, depth, and height, with breadth indicating coverage in terms of population; depth indicating coverage in terms of service provided; and height indicating coverage in terms of the extent of financial protection. A universal coverage system can be evaluated as effective when the above three dimensions are completely filled securing access to adequate healthcare for all at an affordable price. I will try to compile below from different sources some of their findings about universal coverage of health care in Egypt.

In terms of breadth of coverage, coverage in terms of population, Egyptians' coverage is provided through a combination of social health insurance and subsidized government health services. Currently, Social health insurance coverage, provided through the Health Insurance Organization (HIO), covers about 42.3 million person, representing 57 percent of the population (as per the information provided by HIO official website). The bulk of the population under HIO coverage (74 percent) is schoolchildren and infants, and the smallest bulk (6% percent) is widows and pensioners.  The remaining 20% insured are from the active labor force. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) and other government agencies function as an “insurer of last resort” providing free or substantially subsidized health services to the citizens not covered under HIO.  Further, a Program of Treatment at the Expense of State (PTES) was established to extend financial assistance to all Egyptian citizens for expenses incurred for government spending on health care.  Originally, it was designed to cover those not covered by HIO for catastrophic illness, however, its current coverage extended to those who can access it and its funding has been and still expanding.  

Taking a closer look at coverage by social health insurance, we can conclude that its coverage is fragmented by beneficiaries. For historical reasons, Egypt’s social insurance system has developed into multiple programs with different coverage and benefits package for various segments of the population, resulting in a patchwork of coverage. In a typical Egyptian family, the father, a public or private sector employee, will be covered by HIO Law No.79/1975; his wife, a government employee, would be covered by Law No.32/1975 or not covered if she is a housewife; his son, a university student, will not be covered; his daughter, a school student, will be covered by HIO Law No. 99/1992; and his infant child would be covered by a decree 380/ 1997. About one-half of the population, mostly the unemployed, self-employed, and informal sector workers and out-of-school children, are not covered under the HIO system.

In terms of depth of coverage, coverage by services provided, population are receiving different package of services based on the health care system they are accessing. The uninsured population depends on free or subsidized government health services through a nationwide network of government health care providers based on the package provided ranging from primary to tertiary health care services.  The main factors for determining access are services availability, quality, and level of funding. In the early years of 2000, MOHP introduced the concept of family medicine/family health services with the purpose of rationalizing of health services; reorganizing the delivery of primary health care services around families instead of individuals; establishing of family health services as the gatekeeper for the delivery of health care services, a clear referral system to be linked at a future point of time to health insurance; establishing quality standards for service delivery; and ensuring the availability of adequate funding for it through establishing family health funds.
The insured population receives an unlimited package of package of services as defined by law.  The different laws in effect under the HIO result in different systems of benefits and copayments, which complicate the effective administration of the program. Members of the same household have different coverage depending on their status within the household.

The “uninsured” population has access to the PTES for hospitalization and related high-cost health services. However, the PTES is a passive reimbursement scheme not related to any contribution systems or to a well defined benefits package. In a limited number of governorates access to primary care services is financed through the Family Health Fund, but this remains a pilot program without a clear institutional base.

In terms of height of coverage, the extent of financial protection, the best way to measure that is out-of-pocket expenditures.  Out-of-pocket expenditures represents the share of household spending on health care either paid directly to private health providers or pharmacies, or paid indirectly in terms of additional cost paid to receive public health services.  The more it increases the more the population is at risk and less covered by financial protection.  Despite the presence of different types of health coverage provided by the MoHP and the HIO, between 1996 and 2009 the share of direct household spending increased from 50 percent of total health spending to 72 percent. Based on an international report, the reasons for that were presented as follows: First, the level of benefits covered under the HIO or provided by MOHP and other government public health network could be perceived as limited in scope and requires beneficiaries to make additional payments to obtain services not covered. Second, the proportion of the labor force participating in HIO with ability to contribute regularly is low (only 20 percent). Third, the cost containment exercised by HIO could be shifting costs onto households. Fourth, the PTES requires a significant level of cost-sharing by patients; therefore, the expansion of PTES would be accompanied by a concomitant increase in household spending to cover the balance of payments. Fifth, the quality of subsidized government health services may be inadequate (shortage of drugs in health facilities, lack of responsiveness), forcing many households to seek private providers. Recent trends in budget allocation in government health services show that operating and maintenance costs have not kept pace with needs, possibly contributing to inadequate supply of drugs and other essential materials at government health care providers. This would leave many households heavily reliant on out-of-pocket spending and vulnerable to financial stress in the event of a catastrophic illness or injuries.

Until we meet again...

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