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Universal health coverage through the removal of financial and other barriers to access, particularly for people who are poor, is a global priority. This viewpoint describes the many pathways to catastrophic health expenditure (CHE) for patients with Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) based on two case studies and the thematic analysis of field notes regarding 210 patients and their households from a study based in Kerala, India.
There is evidence of the severe financial impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which is in contradiction to the widely acclaimed Kerala model: Good health at low cost. However, it is important to look beyond the out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) and CHE to the possible pathways and identify the triggers that make families vulnerable to CHE. The identified pathways include a primary and secondary loop. The primary pathway describes the direct path by which families experience CHE. These include: 1) factors related to the pre-event period that increase the likelihood of experiencing CHE, such as being from the lower socio-economic strata (SES), past financial losses or loans that leave families with no financial shock absorber at the time of illness; 2) factors related to the acute event, diagnosis, treatment and hospitalization and expenditures incurred for the same and; 3) factors related to the post-event period such as loss of gainful employment and means of financing both the acute period and the long-term management particularly through distress financing. The secondary pathway arises from the primary and includes: 1) the impact of distress financing and; 2) the long- and short- term consequences of CHE. These factors ultimately result in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty through non-compliance and repeat acute events.
This paper outlines the direct and indirect pathways by which patients with ACS and their families are trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty. It also contradicts the prevailing impression that only low-income families are susceptible to CHE, distress financing and their aftermaths and underscores the need for a deeper understanding at the micro-level, if Kerala and India as a whole are to undertake the difficult exercise of achieving universal health coverage to successfully tackle its growing NCD burden.