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Waivers and exemptions for health services in developing countries


  • Bitran, Ricardo
  • Giedion, Ursula


In response to shortages in public budgets for government health services, many developing countries around the world, have adopted formal, or informal systems of user fees for health care. In most countries, user fee proceeds seldom represent more than 15 percent of total costs in hospitals, and health centers, but they tend to account for a significant share of the resources required to pay for non-personnel costs. The problem with user fees is that the lack of provisions to confer partial, or full waivers to the poor, often results in inequity in access to medical care. The dilemma, then, is how to make a much needed system of user fees, compatible with the goal of preserving equitable access to services. Different countries have tried different approaches. Those which have carefully designed, and implemented waiver systems (e.g., Thailand and Indonesia) have had much greater success in terms of benefits incidence, than countries that have improvised such systems (Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe). Key to the success of a waiver system is its financing. Systems that compensate providers for the revenue forgone from granting exemptions (Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia) have been more successful than those who expect the provider to absorb the cost of exemptions (Kenya). Where waiver system exist, performance will improve with the timeliness of the reimbursement. Other success factors include the widespread dissemination among potential beneficiaries, about waiver availability, and procedures; the awarding of financial support to poor patients for non-fee costs of care, such as food and transportation (as in Cambodia); and, the existence of clear criteria for the granting of waivers, thereby reducing confusion, and ambiguity among those responsible for managing the system, and among potential recipients. The review examines various approaches taken by countries, but assessing their relative practical merits is difficult, as the evidence is scattered and mixed.

Suggested Citation

  • Bitran, Ricardo & Giedion, Ursula, 2003. "Waivers and exemptions for health services in developing countries," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 25987, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:hdnspu:25987

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    Cited by:

    1. Ensor, Tim & Ronoh, Jeptepkeny, 2005. "Effective financing of maternal health services: A review of the literature," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 49-58, December.
    2. World Bank, 2006. "Making the New Indonesia Work for the Poor," World Bank Other Operational Studies 8172, The World Bank.
    3. Ridde, Valéry & Yaogo, Maurice & Kafando, Yamba & Kadio, Kadidiatou & Ouedraogo, Moctar & Bicaba, Abel & Haddad, Slim, 2011. "Targeting the worst-off for free health care: A process evaluation in Burkina Faso," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 333-342, November.
    4. Smith, Kimberly V. & Sulzbach, Sara, 2008. "Community-based health insurance and access to maternal health services: Evidence from three West African countries," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(12), pages 2460-2473, June.
    5. Palmer, Michael G. & Nguyen, Thi Minh Thuy, 2012. "Mainstreaming health insurance for people with disabilities," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 600-613.


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