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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Health equity in an unequal country: the use of medical services in Chile

Guillermo Paraje1* and Felipe Vásquez23

Author Affiliations

1 Business School, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Santiago, Chile

2 School of Business and Economics, Universidad del Desarrollo, Concepción, Chile

3 Department of Economics, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11:81  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-81

Published: 18 December 2012

Abstract

Introduction

A recent health reform was implemented in Chile (the AUGE reform) with the objective of reducing the socioeconomic gaps to access healthcare. This reform did not seek to eliminate the private insurance system, which coexists with the public one, but to ensure minimum conditions of access to the entire population, at a reasonable cost and with a quality guarantee, to cover an important group of health conditions. This paper’s main objective is to enquire what has happened with the use of several healthcare services after the reform was fully implemented.

Methods

Concentration and Horizontal Inequity indices were estimated for the use of general practitioners, specialists, emergency room visits, laboratory and x-ray exams and hospitalization days. The change in such indices (pre and post-reform) was decomposed, following Zhong (2010). A “mean effect” (how these indices would change if the differential use in healthcare services were evenly distributed) and a “distribution effect” (how these indices would change with no change in average use) were obtained.

Results

Changes in concentration indices were mainly due to mean effects for all cases, except for specialists (where “distribution effect” prevailed) and hospitalization days (where none of these effects prevailed over others). This implies that by providing more services across socioeconomic groups, less inequality in the use of services was achieved. On the other hand, changes in horizontal inequity indices were due to distribution effects in the case of GP, ER visits and hospitalization days; and due to mean effect in the case of x-rays. In the first three cases indices reduced their pro-poorness implying that after the reform relatively higher socioeconomic groups used these services more (in relation to their needs). In the case of x-rays, increased use was responsible for improving its horizontal inequity index.

Conclusions

The increase in the average use of healthcare services after the AUGE reform has not always led to improved equity in the use of such services in most services. This indicates that there are still barriers to the equitable use of healthcare services (e.g. insufficient medical human resources, financial barriers, capacity constraints, etc.) that have remained after the reform.

Keywords:
Equity; Inequality; Healthcare use; Chile; Household surveys