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1.  Analysis of government investment in primary healthcare institutions to promote equity during the three-year health reform program in China 
Background
The World Health Report 2000 stated that increased public financing for healthcare was an integral part of the efforts to achieve equity of access. In 2009, the Chinese government launched a three-year health reform program to achieve equity of access. Through this reform program, the government intended to increase its investment in primary healthcare institutions (PHIs). However, reports about the outcome and the improvement of the equity of access have yet to be presented.
Methods
Stratified sampling was employed in this research. The samples used for the study comprised 34 community health service centers (CHSCs) and 92 township hospitals (THs) from six provinces of China. Collected data, which were publicly available, consisted of the total revenue, financial revenue, and the number of people for the periods covering January 2010 to September 2010 and January 2011 to September 2011. Revenue information for 2009 and 2010 was obtained from China’s Health Statistics Yearbook.
By using indicators such as government investment, government finance proportion and per capita revenue, t-tests for paired and independent samples were used to analyze the changes in government investment.
Results
Government invest large amount of money to the primary healthcare institutions. Government finance proportion in 2008 was 18.2%. This percentage increased to 38.84% in 2011, indicating statistical significance (p = 0.000) between 2010 and 2011. The per capita financial input was 20.92 yuan in 2010 and 31.10 yuan in 2011. Compared with the figures from 2008 to 2010, the gap in different health sectors narrowed in 2011, and differences emerged. The government finance proportion in CHSCs revenue was 6.9% higher than that of THs, while the per capita revenue of CHSCs was higher. In 2011, the highest and lowest government finance proportions were 48.80% (Shaanxi) and 19.36% (Shandong), respectively. In that same year, the per capita revenue of Shaanxi (40.69 Yuan) was higher than that of Liaoning (28.79 Yuan). Comparing the 2011 figures with those from 2008 to 2010, the gap in 2011 clearly narrowed.
Conclusion
In the three-year health reform program, the Chinese government increased its investment to PHIs gradually and significantly. Thus promote equity to access and universal coverage. However, the increase in government investment stemmed from political desire and from the lack of institutionalization of practice and experience. Hence, a mode of financial allocation must be formulated to promote consistency in government input after the three-year health reform program.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-114
PMCID: PMC3614483  PMID: 23530658
2.  Professional Uncertainty and Disempowerment Responding to Ethnic Diversity in Health Care: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e323.
Background
While ethnic disparities in health and health care are increasing, evidence on how to enhance quality of care and reduce inequalities remains limited. Despite growth in the scope and application of guidelines on “cultural competence,” remarkably little is known about how practising health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities. Using cancer care as a clinical context, we aimed to explore this with a range of health professionals to inform interventions to enhance quality of care.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study involving 18 focus groups with a purposeful sample of 106 health professionals of differing disciplines, in primary and secondary care settings, working with patient populations of varying ethnic diversity in the Midlands of the UK. Data were analysed by constant comparison and we undertook processes for validation of analysis. We found that, as they sought to offer appropriate care, health professionals wrestled with considerable uncertainty and apprehension in responding to the needs of patients of ethnicities different from their own. They emphasised their perceived ignorance about cultural difference and were anxious about being culturally inappropriate, causing affront, or appearing discriminatory or racist. Professionals' ability to think and act flexibly or creatively faltered. Although trying to do their best, professionals' uncertainty was disempowering, creating a disabling hesitancy and inertia in their practice. Most professionals sought and applied a knowledge-based cultural expertise approach to patients, though some identified the risk of engendering stereotypical expectations of patients. Professionals' uncertainty and disempowerment had the potential to perpetuate each other, to the detriment of patient care.
Conclusions
This study suggests potential mechanisms by which health professionals may inadvertently contribute to ethnic disparities in health care. It identifies critical opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively. Interventions should help professionals acknowledge their uncertainty and its potential to create inertia in their practice. A shift away from a cultural expertise model toward a greater focus on each patient as an individual may help.
From a qualitative study, Joe Kai and colleagues have identified opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively to challenges in their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Communities are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity (belonging to a group of people defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin) and race (belonging to a group identified by inherited physical characteristics). Although health professionals and governments are striving to ensure that everybody has the same access to health care, there is increasing evidence of ethnic inequalities in health-care outcomes. Some of these inequalities reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often carry an altered gene that increases their chance of developing aggressive breast cancer. Often, however, these differences reflect inequalities in the health care received by different ethnic groups. To improve this situation, “cultural competence” has been promoted over recent years. Cultural competence is the development of skills by individuals and organizations that allow them to work effectively with people from different cultures. Health professionals are now taught about ethnic differences in health beliefs and practices, religion, and communication styles to help them provide the best service to all their patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
Numerous guidelines aim to improve cultural competency but little is known about how health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic groups. Is their behavior influenced by ethnicity in ways that might contribute to health care disparities? For example, do doctors sometimes avoid medical examinations for fear of causing offence because of cultural differences? If more were known about how health professionals handle ethnic diversity (a term used here to include both ethnicity and race) it might be possible to reduce ethnic inequalities in health care. In this qualitative study, the researchers have explored how health professionals involved in cancer care are affected by working with ethnically diverse patients. A qualitative study is one that collects nonquantitative data such as how doctors “feel” about treating people of different ethnic backgrounds; a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes in different ethnic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 106 doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals from different health-service settings in the Midlands, an ethnically diverse region of the UK. They organized 18 focus groups in which the health professionals described their experiences of caring for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The participants were encouraged to recall actual cases and to identify what they saw as problems and strengths in their interactions with these patients. The researchers found that the health professionals wrestled with many challenges when providing health care for patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds. These challenges included problems with language and with general communication (for example, deciding when it was acceptable to touch a patient to show empathy). Health professionals also worried they did not know enough about cultural differences. As a result, they said they often felt uncertain of their ability to avoid causing affront or appearing racist. This uncertainty, the researchers report, disempowered the health professionals, sometimes making them hesitate or fail to do what was best for their patient.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal that health professionals often experience considerable uncertainty when caring for ethnically diverse patients, even after training in cultural competency. They also show that this uncertainty can lead to hesitancy and inertia, which might contribute to ethnic health care inequalities. Because the study participants were probably already interested in ethnic diversity and health care, interviews with other health professionals (and investigations of patient experiences) are needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several interventions that might reduce health care inequalities caused by ethnic diversity. For example, health professionals should be encouraged to recognize their uncertainty and should have access to more information and training about ethnic differences. In addition, there should be a shift in emphasis away from relying on knowledge-based cultural information towards taking an “ethnographic” approach. In other words, health professionals should be helped to feel able to ask their patients about what matters most to them as individuals about their illness and treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323.
Information on cultural competence and health care is available from the US National Center for Cultural Competence (in English and Spanish) and DiversityRx
PROCEED (Professionals Responding to Cancer in Ethnic Diversity) is a multimedia training tool for educators within the health and allied professions developed from the results of this study; a press release on PROCEED is available from the University of Nottingham
Transcultural Health Care Practice: An educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners is available on the web site of the UK Royal College of Nursing
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323
PMCID: PMC2071935  PMID: 18001148
3.  Challenges and opportunities for policy decisions to address health equity in developing health systems: case study of the policy processes in the Indian state of Orissa 
Introduction
Achieving health equity is a pertinent need of the developing health systems. Though policy process is crucial for planning and attaining health equity, the existing evidences on policy processes are scanty in this regard. This article explores the magnitude, determinants, challenges and prospects of 'health equity approach' in various health policy processes in the Indian State of Orissa - a setting comparable with many other developing health systems.
Methods
A case-study involving 'Walt-Gilson Policy Triangle' employed key-informant interviews and documentary reviews. Key informants (n = 34) were selected from the departments of Health and Family Welfare, Rural Development, and Women and Child Welfare, and civil societies. The documentary reviews involved various published and unpublished reports, policy pronouncements and articles on health equity in Orissa and similar settings.
Results
The 'health policy agenda' of Orissa was centered on 'health equity' envisaging affordable and equitable healthcare to all, integrated with public health interventions. However, the subsequent stages of policy process such as 'development, implementation and evaluation' experienced leakage in the equity approach. The impediment for a comprehensive approach towards health equity was the nexus among the national and state health priorities; role, agenda and capacity of actors involved; and existing constraints of the healthcare delivery system.
Conclusion
The health equity approach of policy processes was incomprehensive, often inadequately coordinated, and largely ignored the right blend of socio-medical determinants. A multi-sectoral, unified and integrated approach is required with technical, financial and managerial resources from different actors for a comprehensive 'health equity approach'. If carefully geared, the ongoing health sector reforms centered on sector-wide approaches, decentralization, communitization and involvement of non-state actors can substantially control existing inequalities through an optimally packaged equitable policy. The stakeholders involved in the policy processes need to be given orientation on the concept of health equity and its linkage with socio-economic development.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-10-55
PMCID: PMC3239384  PMID: 22099141
health equity; policy processes; health sector reforms; developing health systems; India
4.  New evidence on financing equity in China's health care reform - A case study on Gansu province, China 
Background
In the transition from a planned economy to a market-oriented economy, China’s state funding for health care declined and traditional coverage plans collapsed, leaving China’s poor exposed to potentially ruinous health care costs. In reforming health care for the 21st century, equity in health care financing has become a major policy goal. To assess progress towards this goal, this paper examines the equity characteristics of health care financing in a province of northwestern China, comparing the equity performance between urban and rural areas at two different points in time.
Methods
Analysis of whether health care financing contributions were progressive according to income were made using the Kakwani index for each of the four health care financing channels of general taxes, public and private health insurance, and out-of-pocket payments. Two rounds of surveys were conducted, the first in 2003 (13,619 individuals in 3946 households) and the second in 2008 (12,973 individuals in 3958 households). Household socio-economic, health care payment, and utilization information were recorded in household interviews.
Results
Low-income households have undertaken a larger share of the health care financing burden in recent years, reflected by negative Kakwani indices, which indicate a regressive system. We found that the indices for general taxation were −0.0024 (urban) and −0.0281 (rural) in 2002, and −0.0177 (urban) and −0.0097 (rural) in 2007. Public health insurance presented different financing distributions in urban and rural areas (urban: 0.0742 in 2002, 0.0661 in 2007; rural: –0.0615 in 2002,–0.1436 in 2007.). Out-of-pocket payments were progressive but not equitable. Public health insurance coverage has expanded but financing equity has decreased.
Conclusions
Health care financing policies in China need ongoing reform. Given the inequity of general consumption taxes, elimination of these would improve financing equity considerably. Optimizing benefit packages in public health insurance is as important as expanding coverage, both for health care financing and for utilization management as well. Although they are progressive, out-of-pocket payments are not equitable in China and have the effect of excluding the poor from health care as they cannot afford to pay for medical care and so withdraw from treatment.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-466
PMCID: PMC3562140  PMID: 23244513
Equity; Chinese health care reform; Financing; Kakwani index
5.  Research priority setting for health policy and health systems strengthening in Nigeria: the policymakers and stakeholders perspective and involvement 
Introduction
Nigeria is one of the low and middle income countries (LMICs) facing severe resource constraint, making it impossible for adequate resources to be allocated to the health sector. Priority setting becomes imperative because it guides investments in health care, health research and respects resource constraints. The objective of this study was to enhance the knowledge and understanding of policymakers on research priority setting and to conduct a research priority setting exercise.
Methods
A one-day evidence-to-policy research priority setting meeting was held. The meeting participants included senior and middle level policymakers and key decision makers/stakeholders in the health sector in Ebonyi State southeastern Nigeria. The priorities setting meeting involved a training session on priority setting process and conduction of priority setting exercise using the essential national health research (ENHR) approach. The focus was on the health systems building blocks (health workforce; health finance; leadership/governance; medical products/technology; service delivery; and health information/evidence).
Results
Of the total of 92 policymakers invited 90(97.8%) attended the meeting. It was the consensus of the policymakers that research should focus on the challenges of optimal access to health products and technology; effective health service delivery and disease control under a national emergency situation; the shortfalls in the supply of professional personnel; and the issues of governance in the health sector management.
Conclusion
Research priority setting exercise involving policymakers is an example of demand driven strategy in the health policymaking process capable of reversing inequities and strengthening the health systems in LMICs.
doi:10.11604/pamj.2013.16.10.2318
PMCID: PMC3926765  PMID: 24570781
Research; priority setting; health policy; health system strengthening; policymakers; Africa
6.  Consumers' Perspectives on National Health Insurance in South Africa: Using a Mobile Health Approach 
JMIR mHealth and uHealth  2014;2(4):e49.
Background
Building an equitable health system is a cornerstone of the World Health Organization (WHO) health system building block framework. Public participation in any such reform process facilitates successful implementation. South Africa has embarked on a major reform in health policy that aims at redressing inequity and enabling all citizens to have equal access to efficient and quality health services.
Objective
This research is based on a survey using Mxit as a mobile phone–based social media network. It was intended to encourage comments on the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) and to raise awareness among South Africans about their rights to free and quality health care.
Methods
Data were gathered by means of a public e-consultation, and following a qualitative approach, were then examined and grouped in a theme analysis. The WHO building blocks were used as the conceptual framework in analysis and discussion of the identified themes.
Results
Major themes are the improvement of service delivery and patient-centered health care, enhanced accessibility of health care providers, and better health service surveillance. Furthermore, health care users demand stronger outcome-based rather than rule-based indicators of the health system’s governance. Intersectoral solidarity and collaboration between private and public health care providers are suggested. Respondents also propose a code of ethical values for health care professionals to address corruption in the health care system. It is noteworthy that measures for dealing with corruption or implementing ethical values are neither described in the WHO building blocks nor in the NHI.
Conclusions
The policy makers of the new health system for South Africa should address the lack of trust in the health care system that this study has exposed. Furthermore, the study reveals discrepancies between the everyday lived reality of public health care consumers and the intended health policy reform.
doi:10.2196/mhealth.3533
PMCID: PMC4259968  PMID: 25351980
health systems reform; public consultation; South Africa; National Health Insurance (NHI); health systems strengthening (HSS); WHO building blocks; social media, GINI Index
7.  John P. Peters and the committee of 430 physicians. 
John Peters and his committee had a few basic goals. One was that local, state, and federal governments needed to provide money to construct facilities, support medical research and education, and care for the poor. And they wanted experts to call the shots. Over time, Peters and the committee got what they wanted for the most part: Hill-Burton money for building the hospitals, the rise of the National Institutes of Health, Medicare, Medicaid, a Veterans Administration system, and new and expanded medical schools. The experts calling the shots included David Kessler at the Food and Drug Administration and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. In the halcyon days of American health system reform, back in 1993, Yale's Paul Beeson wrote about the Committee of 430 Physicians and its goals in the Pharos of Alpha Omega Alpha. Beeson was optimistic and he quoted from my 1991 JAMA health system reform editorial as a sharp contrast to what Fishbein had written - although coincidentally, we both quote Lincoln. My editorial began, "'with malice toward none, with charity for all...' so spoke Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address recognizing that he had no political consensus regarding either the constitutionality of states seceding or the morality of slavery being abolished. Nonetheless, he knew what was right and was able, through persuasive, often inspiring rhetoric, to conclude a bloody and decisive Civil War and constitute the foundation for this great republic.... Yet access to basic medical care for all of our inhabitants is still not a reality in this country. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is a long-standing, systematic, institutionalized racial discrimination.... An aura of inevitablitiy is upon us. It is not acceptable morally, ethically, or economically for so many of our people to be medically uninsured or seriously underinsured. We can solve this problem. We have the knowledge and the resources, the skills, the time, and the moral prescience. We need only clear-cut objectives and proper organization of existing resources. Have we now the national will and leadership?" Beeson's answer to that question in 1993 was, "Yes, but not by one comprehensive act." He quoted Peters from his 1938 Annals of Internal Medicine article: "a sweeping program suddenly imposed in this country as a whole out of the head of any Jove would undoubtedly create confusion if not chaos. Thoughtful investigation and experiment promises more than grandiose projects born of emotional preconceptions. The programs must be built of an evolutionary manner, step by step." Very wise, very valid. But how long must our people wait?
PMCID: PMC2588694  PMID: 12074477
8.  Primary care priorities in addressing health equity: summary of the WONCA 2013 health equity workshop 
Background
Research consistently shows that gaps in health and health care persist, and are even widening. While the strength of a country’s primary health care system and its primary care attributes significantly improves populations’ health and reduces inequity (differences in health and health care that are unfair and unjust), many areas, such as inequity reduction through the provision of health promotion and preventive services, are not explicitly addressed by general practice. Substantiating the role of primary care in reducing inequity as well as establishing educational training programs geared towards health inequity reduction and improvement of the health and health care of underserved populations are needed.
Methods
This paper summarizes the work performed at the World WONCA (World Organization of National Colleges and Academies of Family Medicine) 2013 Meetings’ Health Equity Workshop which aimed to explore how a better understanding of health inequities could enable primary care providers (PCPs)/general practitioners (GPs) to adopt strategies that could improve health outcomes through the delivery of primary health care. It explored the development of a health equity curriculum and opened a discussion on the future and potential impact of health equity training among GPs.
Results
A survey completed by workshop participants on the current and expected levels of primary care participation in various inequity reduction activities showed that promoting access (availability and coverage) to primary care services was the most important priority. Assessment of the gaps between current and preferred priorities showed that to bridge expectations and actual performance, the following should be the focus of governments and health care systems: forming cross-national collaborations; incorporating health equity and cultural competency training in medical education; and, engaging in initiation of advocacy programs that involve major stakeholders in equity promotion policy making as well as promoting research on health equity.
Conclusions
This workshop formed the basis for the establishment of WONCA’s Health Equity Special Interest Group, set up in early 2014, aiming to bring the essential experience, skills and perspective of interested GPs around the world to address differences in health that are unfair, unjust, unnecessary but avoidable.
doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0104-4
PMCID: PMC4226901  PMID: 25376383
Health equity; Disparities; Primary care
9.  Building consensus on key priorities for rural health care in South Africa using the Delphi technique 
Global Health Action  2013;6:10.3402/gha.v6i0.19522.
Background
South Africa is currently undergoing major health system restructuring in an attempt to improve health outcomes and reduce inequities in access. Such inequities exist between private and public health care and within the public health system itself. Experience shows that rural health care can be disadvantaged in policy formulation despite good intentions. The objective of this study was to identify the major challenges and priority interventions for rural health care provision in South Africa thereby contributing to pro-rural health policy dialogue.
Methods
The Delphi technique was used to develop consensus on a list of statements that was generated through interviews and literature review. A panel of rural health practitioners and other stakeholders was asked to indicate their level of agreement with these statements and to rank the top challenges in and interventions required for rural health care.
Results
Response rates ranged from 83% in the first round (n=44) to 64% in the final round (n=34). The top five priorities were aligned to three of the WHO health system building blocks: human resources for health (HRH), governance, and finance. Specifically, the panel identified a need to focus on recruitment and support of rural health professionals, the employment of managers with sufficient and appropriate skills, a rural-friendly national HRH plan, and equitable funding formulae.
Conclusion
Specific policies and strategies are required to address the greatest rural health care challenges and to ensure improved access to quality health care in rural South Africa. In addition, a change in organisational climate and a concerted effort to make a career in rural health appealing to health care workers and adequate funding for rural health care provision are essential.
doi:10.3402/gha.v6i0.19522
PMCID: PMC3556680  PMID: 23364081
rural health; priorities; challenges; Delphi technique; health systems; leadership; management
10.  Attracting and retaining GPs: a stakeholder survey of priorities 
The British Journal of General Practice  2011;61(588):e411-e418.
Background
Despite being a key player in the healthcare system, training and practising general practice has become less attractive in many countries and is in need of reform.
Aim
To identify political priorities for improving GPs' attraction to the profession and their retention within it.
Design and setting
Stakeholder face-to-face survey in Belgium, 2008.
Method
A total of 102 key stakeholders were recruited from policymakers, professional groups, academia, GP leaders, and the media. All interviewees were asked to score 23 policies on four criteria: effectiveness in attracting and retaining GPs, cost to society, acceptance by other health professionals, and accessibility of care. An overall performance score was computed (from –3 to +3) for each type of policy — training, financing, work–life balance, practice organisation, and governance — and for innovative versus conservative policies.
Results
Practice organisation policies and training policies received the highest scores (mean score ≥1.11). Financing policies, governance, and work–life balance policies scored poorly (mean score ≤0.65) because they had negative effects, particularly in relation to cost, acceptance, and accessibility of care. Stakeholders were keen on moving GPs towards team work, improving their role as care coordinator, and helping them to offload administrative tasks (score ≥1.4). They also favoured moves to increase the early and integrated exposure of all medical students to general practice. Overall, conservative policies were better scored than innovative ones (beta = –0.16, 95% confidence interval = –0.28 to –0.03).
Conclusion
The reforming of general practice is made difficult by the small-step approach, as well as the importance of decision criteria related to cost, acceptance, and access.
doi:10.3399/bjgp11X583191
PMCID: PMC3123504  PMID: 21722449
attraction–retention; primary care; public policy
11.  Prioritising public health: a qualitative study of decision making to reduce health inequalities 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:821.
Background
The public health system in England is currently facing dramatic change. Renewed attention has recently been paid to the best approaches for tackling the health inequalities which remain entrenched within British society and across the globe. In order to consider the opportunities and challenges facing the new public health system in England, we explored the current experiences of those involved in decision making to reduce health inequalities, taking cardiovascular disease (CVD) as a case study.
Methods
We conducted an in-depth qualitative study employing 40 semi-structured interviews and three focus group discussions. Participants were public health policy makers and planners in CVD in the UK, including: Primary Care Trust and Local Authority staff (in various roles); General Practice commissioners; public health academics; consultant cardiologists; national guideline managers; members of guideline development groups, civil servants; and CVD third sector staff.
Results
The short term target- and outcome-led culture of the NHS and the drive to achieve "more for less", combined with the need to address public demand for acute services often lead to investment in "downstream" public health intervention, rather than the "upstream" approaches that are most effective at reducing inequalities. Despite most public health decision makers wishing to redress this imbalance, they felt constrained due to difficulties in partnership working and the over-riding influence of other stakeholders in decision making processes. The proposed public health reforms in England present an opportunity for public health to move away from the medical paradigm of the NHS. However, they also reveal a reluctance of central government to contribute to shifting social norms.
Conclusions
It is vital that the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of all new and existing policies and services affecting public health are measured in terms of their impact on the social determinants of health and health inequalities. Researchers have a vital role to play in providing the complex evidence required to compare different models of prevention and service delivery. Those working in public health must develop leadership to raise the profile of health inequalities as an issue that merits attention, resources and workforce capacity; and advocate for central government to play a key role in shifting social norms.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-821
PMCID: PMC3206485  PMID: 22014291
12.  Priorités dans le domaine de la santé au Québec 
Canadian Medical Association Journal  1977;116(9):1074-1085.
The reform of health services in Quebec, of which the most important stage was the creation of the Department of Social Affairs and the Quebec Health Insurance Board, has solved certain problems such as the inaccessibility to care because of the cost, the paucity of medical personnel and the excessive increase in the cost of the services offered to hospital patients. A critical analysis of both the reform and its practical consequences points to certain conclusions which, far from rejecting the principle of the reform, indicate none the less various possibilities for reorienting its priorities. Observing the rate of recourse to health services as well as the attitudes and conduct of health professionals have helped us to identify the causes of certain tendencies inspired by the incentives inherent in the reform. The organization of health services in Quebec must be oriented toward new priorities: the prevention and treatment both of environmental diseases and diseases associated with ageing plus the definition of a global approach to public health.
Images
PMCID: PMC1879068  PMID: 870160
13.  Development of a medical academic degree system in China 
Medical Education Online  2014;19:10.3402/meo.v19.23141.
Context
The Chinese government launched a comprehensive healthcare reform to tackle challenges to health equities. Medical education will become the key for successful healthcare reform.
Purpose
We describe the current status of the Chinese medical degree system and its evolution over the last 80 years.
Content
Progress has been uneven, historically punctuated most dramatically by the Cultural Revolution. There is a great regional disparity. Doctors with limited tertiary education may be licensed to practice, whereas medical graduates with advanced doctorates may have limited clinical skills. There are undefined relationships between competing tertiary training streams, the academic professional degree, and the clinical residency training programme (RTP). The perceived quality of training in both streams varies widely across China. As the degrees of master or doctor of academic medicine is seen as instrumental in career advancement, including employability in urban hospitals, attainment of this degree is sought after, yet is often unrelated to a role in health care, or is seen as superior to clinical experience. Meanwhile, the practical experience gained in some prestigious academic institutions is deprecated by the RTP and must be repeated before accreditation for clinical practice. This complexity is confusing both for students seeking the most appropriate training, and also for clinics, hospitals and universities seeking to recruit the most appropriate applicants.
Conclusion
The future education reforms might include: 1) a domestic system of ‘credits’ that gives weight to quality clinical experience vs. academic publications in career advancement, enhanced harmonisation between the competing streams of the professional degree and the RTP, and promotion of mobility of staff between areas of excellence and areas of need; 2) International – a mutual professional and academic recognition between China and other countries by reference to the Bologna Accord, setting up a system of easily comparable and well-understood medical degrees.
doi:10.3402/meo.v19.23141
PMCID: PMC3895259  PMID: 24434025
medical degree; medical education; medical licensing; Bologna Accords; China
14.  Recommendation by a law body to ban infant male circumcision has serious worldwide implications for pediatric practice and human rights 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:136.
Background
Recent attempts in the USA and Europe to ban the circumcision of male children have been unsuccessful. Of current concern is a report by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) recommending that non-therapeutic circumcision be prohibited, with parents and doctors risking criminal sanctions except where the parents have strong religious and ethnic ties to circumcision. The acceptance of this recommendation would create a precedent for legislation elsewhere in the world, thereby posing a threat to pediatric practice, parental responsibilities and freedoms, and public health.
Discussion
The TLRI report ignores the scientific consensus within medical literature about circumcision. It contains legal and ethical arguments that are seriously flawed. Dispassionate ethical arguments and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are consistent with parents being permitted to authorize circumcision for their male child. Uncritical acceptance of the TLRI report’s recommendations would strengthen and legitimize efforts to ban childhood male circumcision not just in Australia, but in other countries as well. The medical profession should be concerned about any attempt to criminalize a well-accepted and evidence-based medical procedure. The recommendations are illogical, pose potential dangers and seem unworkable in practice. There is no explanation of how the State could impose criminal charges against doctors and parents, nor of how such a punitive apparatus could be structured, nor how strength of ethnic or religious ties could be determined. The proposal could easily be used inappropriately, and discriminates against parents not tied to the religions specified. With time, religious exemptions could subsequently be overturned. The law, governments and the medical profession should reject the TLRI recommendations, especially since the recent affirmative infant male circumcision policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics attests to the significant individual and public health benefits and low risk of infant male circumcision.
Summary
Doctors should be allowed to perform medical procedures based on sound evidence of effectiveness and safety with guaranteed protection. Parents should be free to act in the best interests of the health of their infant son by having him circumcised should they choose.
doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-136
PMCID: PMC3846407  PMID: 24010685
Circumcision; Infancy; Law; Ethics; Surgery; Public health; Religion; Tasmanian Law Reform Institute; American Academy of Pediatrics; Australia
15.  China’s three-year health reform program and equity in sanitation improvement: a panel analysis 
BMC Public Health  2015;15:38.
Background
Accessible improved sanitation is critical to child health, and inequities in improved sanitation can be interpreted as health inequities across socio-economic groups. From 2009 to 2011, the Chinese government invested 4.448 billion yuan for rural sanitation improvement through a 3-year health reform program. This study assesses the inequity of sanitation improvement in rural China from 2003 to 2011 and examines whether the 3-year health reform program promoted equity in sanitation improvement.
Methods
Data from the China Health Statistics Yearbooks of 2004 to 2012 and the National Bureau of Statistics of China were used to create the concentration curve (CC), concentration index (CI), and absolute concentration index (ACI) of improved sanitation. Data of central investment for sanitation improvement in each province of China for 2009, 2010, and 2011 was gained through correspondence and used to create the CC and CI for investment.
Results
Although the CIs of improved sanitation are lower than the CIs of the net income of rural residents, the latter have an obvious downtrend. The CIs of improved sanitation increased from 2003 until 2008 and started to drop in 2009. As a result, by 2011, the CIs of improved sanitation had reached their 2003 levels. The ACI of improved sanitation decreased slightly from 2003 to 2008, but declined sharply from 2009 to 2011. The CIs of central investment for 2009, 2010, and 2011 are negative and the CCs of central investment are above the line of absolute equality, indicating that investments had been concentrated more on poorer provinces and regions.
Conclusions
The equality of rural residents’ net income has been improving each year, whereas equity in sanitation improvement deteriorated from 2003 to 2008. However, equity in sanitation improvement has increased since 2009 due to central investment in sanitation improvement during the 3-year health reform program that benefits low-income areas more. It is clear that the 3-year health reform program played an important role in promoting the level and equity of sanitation improvement.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1364-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1364-7
PMCID: PMC4323256  PMID: 25638148
Inequity; Improved sanitation; Three-year health reform program; Central investment; Concentration curve; Concentration index; Absolute concentration index
16.  Equity in reproductive and maternal health services in Bangladesh 
Background
The target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is now closer than ever. There is lack of sufficient progress in achieving the MDG targets in many low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, there has also been concerns about wide spread inequity among those that are on track to achieve the health-related MDGs. Bangladesh has made a notable progress towards achieving the MDG 5 targets. It is, however, important to assess if this is an inclusive and equitable progress, as inequitable progress may not lead to sustainable health outcomes. The objective of this study is to assess the magnitude of inequities in reproductive and maternal health services in Bangladesh and propose relevant recommendations for decision making.
Methods
The 2007 Bangladesh demographic and health survey data is analyzed for inequities in selected maternal and reproductive health interventions using the slope and relative indices of inequality.
Results
The analysis indicates that there are significant wealth-related inequalities favouring the wealthiest of society in many of the indicators considered. Antenatal care (at least 4 visits), antenatal care by trained providers such as doctors and nurses, content of antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, delivery in health facility and delivery by caesarean section all manifest inequities against the least wealthy. There are no wealth-related inequalities in the use of modern contraception. In contrast, less desired interventions such as delivery by untrained providers and home delivery show wealth-related inequalities in favour of the poor.
Conclusions
For an inclusive and sustainable improvement in maternal and reproductive health outcomes and achievement of MDG 5 targets, it essential to address inequities in maternal and reproductive health interventions. Under the government’s stewardship, all stakeholders should accord priority to tackling wealth-related inequalities in maternal and reproductive health services by implementing equity-promoting measures both within and outside the health sector.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-12-90
PMCID: PMC3842788  PMID: 24228997
17.  Increasing Coverage and Decreasing Inequity in Insecticide-Treated Bed Net Use among Rural Kenyan Children 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e255.
Background
Inexpensive and efficacious interventions that avert childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to reach effective coverage, especially among the poorest rural sectors. One particular example is insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). In this study, we present repeat observations of ITN coverage among rural Kenyan homesteads exposed at different times to a range of delivery models, and assess changes in coverage across socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a study of annual changes in ITN coverage among a cohort of 3,700 children aged 0–4 y in four districts of Kenya (Bondo, Greater Kisii, Kwale, and Makueni) annually between 2004 and 2006. Cross-sectional surveys of ITN coverage were undertaken coincidentally with the incremental availability of commercial sector nets (2004), the introduction of heavily subsidized nets through clinics (2005), and the introduction of free mass distributed ITNs (2006). The changing prevalence of ITN coverage was examined with special reference to the degree of equity in each delivery approach. ITN coverage was only 7.1% in 2004 when the predominant source of nets was the commercial retail sector. By the end of 2005, following the expansion of heavily subsidized clinic distribution system, ITN coverage rose to 23.5%. In 2006 a large-scale mass distribution of ITNs was mounted providing nets free of charge to children, resulting in a dramatic increase in ITN coverage to 67.3%. With each subsequent survey socioeconomic inequity in net coverage sequentially decreased: 2004 (most poor [2.9%] versus least poor [15.6%]; concentration index 0.281); 2005 (most poor [17.5%] versus least poor [37.9%]; concentration index 0.131), and 2006 with near-perfect equality (most poor [66.3%] versus least poor [66.6%]; concentration index 0.000). The free mass distribution method achieved highest coverage among the poorest children, the highly subsidised clinic nets programme was marginally in favour of the least poor, and the commercial social marketing favoured the least poor.
Conclusions
Rapid scaling up of ITN coverage among Africa's poorest rural children can be achieved through mass distribution campaigns. These efforts must form an important adjunct to regular, routine access to ITNs through clinics, and each complimentary approach should aim to make this intervention free to clients to ensure equitable access among those least able to afford even the cost of a heavily subsidized net.
Noor and colleagues found low levels of use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets when nets were mainly available through the commercial sector. Levels increased when subsidized nets were introduced and rose further when they were made available free.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Malaria is one of the world's most important killer diseases. There are over a million deaths from malaria every year, most of those who die are children in Africa. Frequent attacks of the disease have severe consequences for the health of many millions more. The parasite that causes malaria is spread by bites from certain species of mosquito. They mostly bite during the hours of darkness, so sleeping under a mosquito net provides some protection. In some countries where malaria is a problem, bed nets are already used by many people. A very much higher level of protection is obtained, however, by sleeping under a mosquito net that has been impregnated with insecticide. The insecticides used are of extremely low toxicity for humans. As insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are a relatively new idea, people do need to be persuaded to buy and use them. ITNs must also be re-impregnated regularly, although long-lasting ones that remain effective for 3–5 y (or 21 washes) are now widely distributed. The nets are inexpensive by Western standards but the people who are most at risk of malaria have very little income. Governments and health agencies are keen to increase the use of nets, particularly for children and pregnant women. The main approach used has been that of “social marketing.” In other words, advertising campaigns promote the use of nets, and their local manufacture is encouraged. The nets are then sold on the open market, sometimes with government subsidies. This approach has been very controversial. Many people have argued that ways must be found to make nets available free to all who need them, but others believe that this is not necessary and that high rates of ITN use can be brought about by social marketing alone.
Why Was This Study Done?
It has been known for more than ten years that ITNs are very effective in reducing cases of malaria, but there is still a long way to go before every child at risk sleeps under an ITN. In Kenya, a country where malaria is very common, a program to increase net use began in 2002, using the social marketing approach. In 2004 most of the nets available in Kenya were those on sale commercially. In October 2004 health clinics started to distribute more heavily subsidized ITNs for children and pregnant women and, in 2006, a mass distribution program began of free nets for children. The researchers, based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), wanted to find whether the number of children sleeping under ITNs changed as a result of these changes in policy. They also wanted to see how the rate of net use varied between families of different socioeconomic levels, as the poorest children are known to be most likely to die from malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This is a large study involving 3,700 children in four districts of Kenya. The researchers conducted surveys and then calculated the rates of net use in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In the first survey, when nets were available to most people only through the commercial sector, only 7% of children were sleeping under ITNs, with a very big difference between the poorest families (3%) and the least poor (16%). By the end of 2005, the year in which subsidized nets became increasingly available in clinics, the overall rate of use rose to 24%. By the end of 2006, following the free distribution campaign, it was 66%. The 2006 figure was almost exactly the same for the poorest and least poor families.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The rate of net use in the districts in the survey is much higher than expected, even though one-third of children were still not protected by ITNs. The sharp increases—particularly among the poorest children—after heavily subsidized nets were introduced and then after the free mass distribution suggests that this is a very good use of the limited amount of funds available for health care in Kenya and other countries where malaria is common. If fewer Kenyan children have malaria there will be cost savings to the health services. While some might claim that it is obvious that nets will be more widely used if they are free, there has been heated debate as to whether this is really true. Evidence has been needed and this research now provides strong support for free distribution. The study has also identified other factors which will be important in the continuing efforts to increase ITN use.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated nets (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese) and from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the use of insecticide-treated nets
For information about the Medical Research Institute see the organization's Web site
The BBC Web site has a “country profile” about Kenya
Malaria data and related publications can be found on the Malaria Atlas Project Web site, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK and is a joint project between the Malaria Public Health & Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Kenya and the Spatial Ecology & Epidemiology Group, University of Oxford, UK
The Kenya Ministry of Health, Division of Malaria Control Web site has useful information on malaria epidemiology and policies for Kenya
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255
PMCID: PMC1949846  PMID: 17713981
18.  Residence, income and cancer hospitalizations in British Columbia during a decade of policy change 
Background
Through the 1990s, governments across Canada shifted health care funding allocation and organizational foci toward a community-based population health model. Major concerns of reform based on this model include ensuring equitable access to health and health care, and enhancing preventive and community-based resources for care. Reforms may act differentially relative to specific conditions and services, including those geared to chronic versus acute conditions. The present study therefore focuses on health service utilization, specifically cancer hospitalizations, in British Columbia during a decade of health system reform.
Methods
Data were drawn from the British Columbia Linked Health Data resource; income measures were derived from Statistics Canada 1996 Census public use enumeration area income files. Records with a discharge (separation) date between 1 January 1991 and 31 December 1998 were selected. All hospitalizations with ICD-9 codes 140 through 208 (except skin cancer, code 173) as principal diagnosis were included. Specific cancers analyzed include lung; colorectal; female breast; and prostate. Hospitalizations were examined in total (all separations), and as divided into first and all other hospitalizations attributed to any given individual. Annual trends in age-sex adjusted rates were analyzed by joinpoint regression; longitudinal multivariate analyses assessing association of residence and income with hospitalizations utilized generalised estimating equations. Results are evaluated in relation to cancer incidence trends, health policy reform and access to care.
Results
Age-sex adjusted hospitalization rates for all separations for all cancers, and lung, breast and prostate cancers, decreased significantly over the study period; colorectal cancer separations did not change significantly. Rates for first and other hospitalizations remained stationary or gradually declined over the study period. Area of residence and income were not significantly associated with first hospitalizations; effects were less consistent for all and other hospitalizations. No interactions were observed for any category of separations.
Conclusions
No discontinuities were observed with respect to total hospitalizations that could be associated temporally with health policy reform; observed changes were primarily gradual. These results do not indicate whether equity was present prior to health care reform. However, findings concur with previous reports indicating no change in access to health care across income or residence consequent on health care reform.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-3-2
PMCID: PMC421740  PMID: 15086955
administrative health data; cancer; health care reform; population health
19.  What core primary health care services should be available to Australians living in rural and remote communities? 
BMC Family Practice  2014;15:143.
Background
Australians living in rural and remote areas experience poorer access to primary health care (PHC) and poorer health outcomes compared to metropolitan populations. Current health reform in Australia aims to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, have access to essential PHC services. However, at a national level policy makers and health planners lack an evidence-based set of core PHC services to assist in implementing this goal.
Methods
A Delphi method was used to reach consensus on an evidence-based list of core PHC services to which all Australians should have access and their necessary support functions. Experts in rural and remote and/or Indigenous PHC, including policy-makers, academics, clinicians and consumers, were invited to consider a list of core services derived from the literature.
Results
Thirty nine experts agreed to participate. After three survey rounds there was a strong consensus (≥80% agreement) on core PHC services namely; ‘care of the sick and injured’, ‘mental health’, ‘maternal/child health’, ‘allied health’, ‘sexual/reproductive health’, ‘rehabilitation’, ‘oral/dental health’ and ‘public health/illness prevention’; and on the PHC support functions of; ‘management/governance/leadership’, ‘coordination’, ‘health infrastructure’, ‘quality systems’, ‘data systems’, ‘professional development’ and ‘community participation’. Themes emerging from qualitative data included challenges in providing equitable PHC in rural and remote areas, the importance of service coordination and diverse strategies to overcome access barriers.
Conclusion
This study identifies a basket of PHC services that consumers in rural and remote communities can expect to access. It provides rigorously derived evidence that will contribute to a more systematic approach to PHC service planning and availability and will assist policy makers in the allocation of scarce resources necessary to improve the health outcomes of residents of rural and remote areas.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-143
PMCID: PMC4236500  PMID: 25143194
Primary health care; Equity; Access; Core services; Health service planning; Health policy; Rural; Remote
20.  Health equity in an unequal country: the use of medical services in Chile 
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.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-81
PMCID: PMC3544610  PMID: 23249481
Equity; Inequality; Healthcare use; Chile; Household surveys
21.  Inequalities in Advice Provided by Public Health Workers to Women during Antenatal Sessions in Rural India 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44931.
Objectives
Studies have widely documented the socioeconomic inequalities in maternal and child health related outcomes in developing countries including India. However, there is limited research on the inequalities in advice provided by public health workers on maternal and child health during antenatal visits. This paper investigates the inequalities in advice provided by public health workers to women during antenatal visits in rural India.
Methods and Findings
The District Level Household Survey (2007–08) was used to compute rich-poor ratios and concentration indices. Binary logistic regressions were used to investigate inequalities in advice provided by public health workers. The dependent variables comprised the advice provided on seven essential components of maternal and child health care. A significant proportion of pregnant women who attended at least four ANC sessions were not advised on these components during their antenatal sessions. Only 51%–72% of the pregnant women were advised on at least one of the components. Moreover, socioeconomic inequalities in providing advice were significant and the provision of advice concentrated disproportionately among the rich. Inequalities were highest in the case of advice on family planning methods. Advice on breastfeeding was least unequal. Public health workers working in lower level health facilities were significantly less likely than their counterparts in the higher level health facilities to provide specific advice.
Conclusion
A significant proportion of women were not advised on recommended components of maternal and child health in rural India. Moreover, there were enormous socioeconomic inequalities. The findings of this study raise questions about the capacity of the public health care system in providing equitable services in India. The Government of India must focus on training and capacity building of the public health workers in communication skills so that they can deliver appropriate and recommended advice to all clients, irrespective of their socioeconomic status.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044931
PMCID: PMC3444494  PMID: 23028688
22.  Horizontal equity in health care utilization in Brazil, 1998–2008 
Introduction
This study assesses trends in horizontal equity in the utilization of healthcare services from 1998 to 2008--a period of major economic and social change in Brazil.
Methods
Data are from nationally representative surveys repeated in 1998, 2003, and 2008. We apply established methods for assessing horizontal inequity in healthcare access (the principle that people with the same healthcare needs should have similar access to healthcare services). Horizontal inequity is calculated as the difference between observed healthcare utilization and utilization predicted by healthcare needs. Outcomes examined include the probability of a medical, dental, or hospital visit during the past 12 months; any health service use in the past two weeks; and having a usual source of healthcare. We use monthly family income to measure differences in socioeconomic position. Healthcare needs include age, sex, self-rated health, and chronic conditions. Non-need factors include income, education, geography, health insurance, and Family Health Strategy coverage.
Results
The probability of having at least one doctor visit in the past 12 months became substantially more equitable over time, ending with a slightly pro-rich orientation in 2008. Any hospitalization in the past 12 months was found to be pro-poor in all periods but became slightly less so in 2008. Dental visits showed the largest absolute decrease in horizontal inequity, although they were still the most inequitably (pro-rich) distributed outcome in 2008. Service use in the past two weeks showed decreased inequity in 2003 but exhibited no significant change between 2003 and 2008. Having a usual source of care became less pro-rich over time and was nearly income-neutral by 2008. Factors associated with greater inequities include income, having a private health plan, and geographic location. Factors associated with greater equity included health needs, schooling, and enrolment in the Family Health Strategy.
Conclusions
Healthcare utilization in Brazil appears to have become increasingly equitable over the past 10 years. Although this does not imply that equity in health outcomes has improved correspondingly, it does suggest that government policies aimed at increasing access, especially to primary care, have helped to make healthcare utilization in Brazil fairer over time.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-33
PMCID: PMC3444440  PMID: 22720869
Healthcare; Brazil; Access to care; Primary care
23.  Health care and equity in India 
Lancet  2011;377(9764):505-515.
India’s health system faces the ongoing challenge of responding to the needs of the most disadvantaged members of Indian society. Despite progress in improving access to health care, inequalities by socioeconomic status, geography and gender continue to persist. This is compounded by high out-of-pocket expenditures, with the rising financial burden of health care falling overwhelming on private households, which account for more than three-quarter of health spending in India. Health expenditures are responsible for more than half of Indian households falling into poverty; the impact of this has been increasing pushing around 39 million Indians into poverty each year. In this paper, we identify key challenges to equity in service delivery, and equity in financing and financial risk protection in India. These include imbalanced resource allocation, limited physical access to quality health services and inadequate human resources for health; high out-of-pocket health expenditures, health spending inflation, and behavioral factors that affect the demand for appropriate health care. Complementing other paper in this Series, we argue for the application of certain principles in the pursuit of equity in health care in India. These are the adoption of equity metrics in monitoring, evaluation and strategic planning, investment in developing a rigorous knowledge-base of health systems research; development of more equity-focused process of deliberative decision-making in health reform, and redefinition of the specific responsibilities and accountabilities of key actors. The implementation of these principles, together with strengthening of public health and primary care services, provide an approach for ensuring more equitable health care for India’s population.
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61894-6
PMCID: PMC3093249  PMID: 21227492
24.  Changes in Drug Utilization during a Gap in Insurance Coverage: An Examination of the Medicare Part D Coverage Gap 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1001075.
Jennifer Polinski and colleagues estimated the effect of the "coverage gap" during which US Medicare beneficiaries are fully responsible for drug costs and found that the gap was associated with a doubling in discontinuing essential medications.
Background
Nations are struggling to expand access to essential medications while curbing rising health and drug spending. While the US government's Medicare Part D drug insurance benefit expanded elderly citizens' access to drugs, it also includes a controversial period called the “coverage gap” during which beneficiaries are fully responsible for drug costs. We examined the impact of entering the coverage gap on drug discontinuation, switching to another drug for the same indication, and drug adherence. While increased discontinuation of and adherence to essential medications is a regrettable response, increased switching to less expensive but therapeutically interchangeable medications is a positive response to minimize costs.
Methods and Findings
We followed 663,850 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D or retiree drug plans with prescription and health claims in 2006 and/or 2007 to determine who reached the gap spending threshold, n = 217,131 (33%). In multivariate Cox proportional hazards models, we compared drug discontinuation and switching rates in selected drug classes after reaching the threshold between all 1,993 who had no financial assistance during the coverage gap (exposed) versus 9,965 multivariate propensity score-matched comparators with financial assistance (unexposed). Multivariate logistic regressions compared drug adherence (≤80% versus >80% of days covered). Beneficiaries reached the gap spending threshold on average 222 d ±79. At the drug level, exposed beneficiaries were twice as likely to discontinue (hazard ratio [HR]  = 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.64–2.43) but less likely to switch a drug (HR  = 0.60, 0.46–0.78) after reaching the threshold. Gap-exposed beneficiaries were slightly more likely to have reduced adherence (OR  = 1.07, 0.98–1.18).
Conclusions
A lack of financial assistance after reaching the gap spending threshold was associated with a doubling in discontinuing essential medications but not switching drugs in 2006 and 2007. Blunt cost-containment features such as the coverage gap have an adverse impact on drug utilization that may conceivably affect health outcomes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more effective drugs for more diseases become available. But the availability of so many drugs poses a problem. How can governments provide their citizens with access to essential medications but control drug costs? Many different approaches have been tried, among them the “coverage gap” or “donut hole” approach that the US government has incorporated into its Medicare program. Medicare is the US government's health insurance program for people aged 65 or older and for younger people with specific conditions. Nearly 50 million US citizens are enrolled in Medicare. In 2006, the government introduced a prescription drug insurance benefit called Medicare Part D to help patients pay for their drugs. Until recently, beneficiaries of this scheme had to pay all their drug costs after their drug spending reached an initial threshold in any calendar year ($2,830 in 2010). Beneficiaries remained in this coverage gap (although people on low incomes received subsidies to help them pay for their drugs) until their out-of-pocket spending reached a catastrophic coverage spending threshold ($4,550 in 2010) or a new year started, after which the Part D benefit paid for most drug costs. Importantly, the 2010 US health reforms have mandated a gradual reduction in the amount that Medicare Part D enrollees have to pay for their prescriptions when they reach the coverage gap.
Why Was This Study Done?
Three to four million Medicare Part D beneficiaries reach the coverage gap every year (nearly 15% of all Part D beneficiaries). Supporters of the coverage gap concept argue that withdrawal of benefits increases beneficiaries' awareness of medication costs and encourages switching to cost-effective therapeutic options. However, critics argue that the coverage gap is likely to lead to decreased drug utilization, increased use of health services, and adverse outcomes. In this study, the researchers examine the impact of entering the coverage gap on drug discontinuation, switching to another drug for the same indication, and drug adherence (whether patients take their prescribed drugs regularly).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers studied 663,850 Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in Part D or in retiree drug plans (which provide coverage under a employer's group health plan after retirement; the retiree drug plans included in this study did not have coverage gaps) who made prescription claims in 2006 and/or 2007. A third of these individuals reached the gap spending threshold. The researchers used detailed statistical analyses to compare the drug discontinuation, switching, and adherence rates of 1,993 beneficiaries who had no financial assistance during the coverage gap (exposed beneficiaries) with those of 9,965 matched beneficiaries who had financial assistance during the coverage gap (unexposed). On average, beneficiaries reached the gap spending threshold 222 days into the year (mid August). In a drug-level analysis, exposed beneficiaries were twice as likely to discontinue a drug and slightly more likely to have reduced drug adherence than unexposed beneficiaries but 40% less likely to switch a drug after reaching the threshold. Similar results were obtained in a beneficiary-level analysis in which discontinuation, switching, and adherence rates were considered in terms of the complete drug regimen of individual beneficiaries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among the Medicare beneficiaries investigated, a lack of financial assistance to pay for drugs after reaching the coverage gap spending threshold led to a doubling in the rate of drug discontinuation and a slight reduction in drug adherence. Surprisingly, lack of financial assistance resulted in a decrease in drug switching even though the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advise patients to consider switching to generic or low-cost drugs. Importantly, the researchers estimate that, for the whole Medicare population, the lack of financial assistance to pay for drugs could result in an additional 18,000 patients discontinuing one or more prescription drug per year. Although this study did not directly investigate the effect of the coverage gap on patient outcomes, these findings suggest that this and other blunt cost-containment approaches could adversely affect health outcomes through their effects on drug utilization. Thus, insurance strategies that specifically promote the use of drugs with high benefit but low cost might be a better approach for governments seeking to improve the health of their citizens while reining in drug costs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001075.
The US Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid provides information on all aspects of Medicare, including general advice on bridging the coverage gap and an information sheet on bridging the coverage gap in 2011
Medicare.gov, the official US government website for Medicare, provides information on all aspects of Medicare (in English and Spanish), including a description of Part D prescription drug coverage
An information sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation explains the key changes to the Medicare Part D drug benefit coverage gap that were introduced in the 2010 health care reforms
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about Medicare (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001075
PMCID: PMC3156689  PMID: 21857811
25.  Why reduce health inequalities? 
It is well known that social, cultural and economic factors cause substantial inequalities in health. Should we strive to achieve a more even share of good health, beyond improving the average health status of the population? We examine four arguments for the reduction of health inequalities.
1 Inequalities are unfair.
Inequalities in health are undesirable to the extent that they are unfair, or unjust. Distinguishing between health inequalities and health inequities can be contentious. Our view is that inequalities become "unfair" when poor health is itself the consequence of an unjust distribution of the underlying social determinants of health (for example, unequal opportunities in education or employment).
2 Inequalities affect everyone.
Conditions that lead to marked health disparities are detrimental to all members of society. Some types of health inequalities have obvious spillover effects on the rest of society, for example, the spread of infectious diseases, the consequences of alcohol and drug misuse, or the occurrence of violence and crime.
3 Inequalities are avoidable.
Disparities in health are avoidable to the extent that they stem from identifiable policy options exercised by governments, such as tax policy, regulation of business and labour, welfare benefits and health care funding. It follows that health inequalities are, in principle, amenable to policy interventions. A government that cares about improving the health of the population ought therefore to incorporate considerations of the health impact of alternative options in its policy setting process.
3 Interventions to reduce health inequalities are cost effective.
Public health programmes that reduce health inequalities can also be cost effective. The case can be made to give priority to such programmes (for example, improving access to cervical cancer screening in low income women) on efficiency grounds. On the other hand, few programmes designed to reduce health inequalities have been formally evaluated using cost effectiveness analysis.
We conclude that fairness is likely to be the most influential argument in favour of acting to reduce disparities in health, but the concept of equity is contested and susceptible to different interpretations. There is persuasive evidence for some outcomes that reducing inequalities will diminish "spill over" effects on the health of society at large. In principle, you would expect that differences in health status that are not biologically determined are avoidable. However, the mechanisms giving rise to inequalities are still imperfectly understood, and evidence remains to be gathered on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce such inequalities.


Keywords: health inequalities; equity; interventions; social determinants of health
doi:10.1136/jech.54.12.923
PMCID: PMC1731601  PMID: 11076989

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