Inequalities in out-of-pocket payments for health care services among elderly Germans--results of a population-based cross-sectional study

Int J Equity Health. 2014 Jan 8;13:3. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-13-3.


Introduction: In order to limit rising publicly-financed health expenditure, out-of-pocket payments for health care services (OOPP) have been raised in many industrialized countries. However, higher health-related OOPP may burden social subgroups unequally. In Germany, inequalities in OOPP have rarely been analyzed. The aim of this study was to examine OOPP of the German elderly population in the different sectors of the health care system. Socio-economic and morbidity-related determinants of inequalities in OOPP were analyzed.

Methods: This cross-sectional analysis used data of N = 3,124 subjects aged 57 to 84 years from a population-based prospective cohort study (ESTHER study) collected in the Saarland, Germany, from 2008 to 2010. Subjects passed a geriatric assessment, including a questionnaire for health care utilization and OOPP covering a period of three months in the following sectors: inpatient care, outpatient physician and non-physician services, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, dental prostheses and nursing care. Determinants of OOPP were analyzed by a two-part model. The financial burden of OOPP for certain social subgroups (measured by the OOPP-income-ratio) was investigated by a generalized linear model for the binomial family.

Results: Mean OOPP during three months amounted to €119, with 34% for medical supplies, 22% for dental prostheses, 21% for pharmaceuticals, 17% for outpatient physician and non-physician services, 5% for inpatient care and 1% for nursing care. The two-part model showed a significant positive association between income (square root equivalence scale) and total OOPP. Increasing morbidity was associated with significantly higher total OOPP, and in particular with higher OOPP for pharmaceuticals. Total OOPP amounted to about 3% of disposable income. The generalized linear model for the binomial family showed a significantly lower financial burden for the wealthiest quintile as compared to the poorest one.

Conclusions: This is the first study providing evidence of inequalities in OOPP in the German elderly population. Socio-economic and morbidity-related inequalities in OOPP and the resulting financial burden could be identified. The results of this study may contribute to the discussion about the mechanisms causing the observed inequalities and can thus help decision makers to consider them when adapting future regulations on OOPP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cost Sharing / economics*
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Services for the Aged / economics*
  • Health Services for the Aged / statistics & numerical data
  • Healthcare Disparities / economics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires