Background: Universal coverage of health care is now receiving substantial worldwide and national attention, but debate continues on the best mix of financing mechanisms, especially to protect people outside the formal employment sector. Crucial issues are the equity implications of different financing mechanisms, and patterns of service use. We report a whole-system analysis--integrating both public and private sectors--of the equity of health-system financing and service use in Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania.
Methods: We used primary and secondary data to calculate the progressivity of each health-care financing mechanism, catastrophic spending on health care, and the distribution of health-care benefits. We collected qualitative data to inform interpretation.
Findings: Overall health-care financing was progressive in all three countries, as were direct taxes. Indirect taxes were regressive in South Africa but progressive in Ghana and Tanzania. Out-of-pocket payments were regressive in all three countries. Health-insurance contributions by those outside the formal sector were regressive in both Ghana and Tanzania. The overall distribution of service benefits in all three countries favoured richer people, although the burden of illness was greater for lower-income groups. Access to needed, appropriate services was the biggest challenge to universal coverage in all three countries.
Interpretation: Analyses of the equity of financing and service use provide guidance on which financing mechanisms to expand, and especially raise questions over the appropriate financing mechanism for the health care of people outside the formal sector. Physical and financial barriers to service access must be addressed if universal coverage is to become a reality.
Funding: European Union and International Development Research Centre.
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