Poland health system review

Health Syst Transit. 2011;13(8):1-193.


Since the successful transition to a freely elected parliament and a market economy after 1989, Poland is now a stable democracy and is well represented within political and economic organizations in Europe and worldwide. The strongly centralized health system based on the Semashko model was replaced with a decentralized system of mandatory health insurance, complemented with financing from state and territorial self-government budgets. There is a clear separation of health care financing and provision: the National Health Fund (NFZ) the sole payer in the system is in charge of health care financing and contracts with public and non-public health care providers. The Ministry of Health is the key policy-maker and regulator in the system and is supported by a number of advisory bodies, some of them recently established. Health insurance contributions, borne entirely by employees, are collected by intermediary institutions and are pooled by the NFZ and distributed between the 16 regional NFZ branches. In 2009, Poland spent 7.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health. Around 70% of health expenditure came from public sources and over 83.5% of this expenditure can be attributed to the (near) universal health insurance. The relatively high share of private expenditure is mostly represented by out-of-pocket (OOP) payments, mainly in the form of co-payments and informal payments. Voluntary health insurance (VHI) does not play an important role and is largely limited to medical subscription packages offered by employers. Compulsory health insurance covers 98% of the population and guarantees access to a broad range of health services. However, the limited financial resources of the NFZ mean that broad entitlements guaranteed on paper are not always available. Health care financing is overall at most proportional: while financing from health care contributions is proportional and budgetary subsidies to system funding are progressive, high OOP expenditures, particularly in areas such as pharmaceuticals, are highly regressive. The health status of the Polish population has improved substantially, with average life expectancy at birth reaching 80.2 years for women and 71.6 years for men in 2009. However, there is still a vast gap in life expectancy between Poland and the western European Union (EU) countries and between life expectancy overall and the expected number of years without illness or disability. Given its modest financial, human and material health care resources and the corresponding outcomes, the overall financial efficiency of the Polish system is satisfactory. Both allocative and technical efficiency leave room for improvement. Several measures, such as prioritizing primary care and adopting new payment mechanisms such as diagnosis-related groups (DRGs), have been introduced in recent years but need to be expanded to other areas and intensified. Additionally, numerous initiatives to enhance quality control and build the required expertise and evidence base for the system are also in place. These could improve general satisfaction with the system, which is not particularly high. Limited resources, a general aversion to cost-sharing stemming from a long experience with broad public coverage and shortages in health workforce need to be addressed before better outcomes can be achieved by the system. Increased cooperation between various bodies within the health and social care sectors would also contribute in this direction. The HiT profiles are country-based reports that provide a detailed description of a health system and of policy initiatives in progress or under development. HiTs examine different approaches to the organization, financing and delivery of health services, and the role of the main actors in health systems; they describe the institutional framework, process, content and implementation of health and health care policies; and highlight challenges and areas that require more in-depth analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Technology / economics*
  • Biomedical Technology / organization & administration
  • Biomedical Technology / trends
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services / trends
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Insurance, Health / organization & administration
  • Male
  • Poland