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Financial protection of households against health shocks in Greece during the economic crisis

Chantzaras, A. E., & Yfantopoulos, J. N. (2018). Financial protection of households against health shocks in Greece during the economic crisis. Social Science & Medicine.

Harsh funding cutbacks along with measures shifting cost to patients have been implemented in the Greek health system in recent years. Our objective was to investigate the evolution of financial protection of Greek households against out-of-pocket payments (OOPP) during the economic crisis.

National representative data of 33,091 households were derived from the Household Budget Surveys for the period 2008–2015. Financial protection was assessed by applying the approaches of catastrophic (CHE) and impoverishing OOPP. The determinants of CHE and impoverishment were examined using binary logistic regressions.

OOPP dropped by 23.5% in real values between 2008 and 2015, though their share in households’ budget rose from 6.9% to 7.8%, with an increasing trend since 2012. These outcomes were driven by significant increases in medical products (20.2%) and inpatient (63%) OOPP, while outpatient expenses decreased considerably (−62%). Both incidence and overshoot of CHE were significantly exacerbated. The additional burden was distributed progressively, hence, financial risk inequalities decreased. Food poverty increased, but its incidence still remains at very low levels. Both incidence and intensity of relative poverty increased considerably in real terms. The poverty impact of OOPP is aggravating following 2012, and 1.9% of individuals were impoverished due to OOPP in 2015. Households of higher size, lower expenditure quintile, in urban areas, without disabled, elderly or young children members, and with younger or retired, better-educated breadwinners were significantly less vulnerable to CHE. Households in the lower-middle expenditure quintile, in rural regions, and with elderly members were facing higher risk, while wealthier families exhibited a considerable lower likelihood of impoverishment.

The expansion of reliance of healthcare funding on OOPP has increased the financial risk and hardship of Greek households, which may disrupt their living conditions and create barriers to healthcare access. Cost-sharing policies should recognise the different social protection needs of households.