Medicine benefits through health insurance programs have the potential to improve access to and promote more effective use of affordable, high quality medicines. Information is lacking about medicine benefits provided by health insurance programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. We describe the structure of medicine benefits and data routinely available for decision-making in 33 health insurance programs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Most programs surveyed were private, for profit schemes covering voluntary enrollees, mostly in urban areas. Almost all provide both inpatient and outpatient medicine benefits, with members sharing the cost of medicines in all programs. Some programs use strategies that are common in high-income countries to manage the medicine benefits, such as formularies, generics policies, reimbursement limits, or price negotiation. Basic data to monitor performance in delivering medicine benefits are available in most programs, but key data elements and the resources needed to generate useful management information from the available data are typically missing. Many questions remain unanswered about the design, implementation, and effects of specific medicines policies in the emerging and expanding health insurance programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. These include questions about the most effective medicines policy choices, given different corporate and organizational structures and resources; impacts of specific benefit designs on quality and affordability of care and health outcomes; and ways to facilitate use of routine data for monitoring. Technical capacity building, strong government commitment, and international donor support will be needed to realize the benefits of medicines coverage in emerging and expanding health insurance programs in Sub-Saharan Africa.
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