Private health expenditure in Ireland: Assessing the affordability of private financing of health care

Health Policy. 2019 Oct;123(10):963-969. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2019.08.002. Epub 2019 Aug 9.


This paper investigates the affordability of private health expenditure among Irish households and the services contributing towards financial hardship. We use data from the Irish Household Budget Survey, a representative survey of household spending in Ireland, covering 2009-10 and 2015-16. Private health expenditure comprises out-of-pocket payments for health and social care services and private health insurance (PHI) premiums. The poverty threshold is 60% of median total equivalised consumption and households with consumption below this level were defined as poor. Households were classified as having unaffordable health expenditure if: 1) they were poor and reported any spending; 2) they were pushed below poverty threshold by health spending; or 3) their spending on health exceeded 40% of capacity to pay. Despite signs of economic recovery, the incidence of unaffordable private health spending increased over the years-from 15% in 2009-10 to 18.8% in 2015-16. People on low incomes were disproportionately affected. The largest component of unaffordable spending for poorer households is PHI and not user charges, which have actually fallen as a cause of hardship. Our findings indicate that reliance on private health expenditure as a funding mechanism undermines the fundamental goals of equity and appropriate access within the health care system.

Keywords: Affordability; Health insurance; Healthcare financing; Ireland; Out of pocket payments; Private health expenditure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Characteristics
  • Financing, Personal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Financing, Personal / trends
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Expenditures / trends
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Ireland
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data