Italy's national health service is statutorily required to guarantee the uniform provision of comprehensive care throughout the country. However, this is complicated by the fact that, constitutionally, responsibility for health care is shared between the central government and the 20 regions. There are large and growing differences in regional health service organisation and provision. Public health-care expenditure has absorbed a relatively low share of gross domestic product, although in the last 25 years it has consistently exceeded central government forecasts. Changes in payment systems, particularly for hospital care, have helped to encourage organisational appropriateness and may have contributed to containing expenditure. Tax sources used to finance the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) have become somewhat more regressive. The limited evidence on vertical equity suggests that the SSN ensures equal access to primary care but lower income groups face barriers to specialist care. The health status of Italians has improved and compares favourably with that in other countries, although regional disparities persist.
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