WHO explores viability of health insurance options for sector reform in Cyprus


Philippos Patsalis, Minister of Health,Cyprus, addresses staff at Limassol hospital

In support of national health sector reform in Cyprus, the Ministry of Health and WHO/Europe have undertaken a national study to compare the efficiency and sustainability of various health insurance schemes. The aim of the study is to determine the potential costs, benefits, and risks of operating a national health insurance plan via multiple insurance organizations versus through a single purchaser.

The initiative is part of a memorandum of understanding between the Cypriot Ministry of Health and WHO, signed last September, which provides a mechanism for joint work on health sector reform in 2015-2020. The study is being conducted by Sarah Thomson, senior health financing specialist at the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, WHO Barcelona Office for Health Systems Strengthening, and Patrick Jeurissen of the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.

As part of the study, WHO will also explore the feasibility and potential timeline for implementing a national health service (NHS) system financed by a single insurance organization. The effort is in the context of a separate memorandum of understanding that the Cypriot government signed with the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2012 to drive necessary structural reforms across the economy, with special recommendations for reforming the health sector. The health ministry’s engagement with WHO falls within that broad framework.

Under the current insurance scheme, private households’ out-of-pocket payments for health care accounted for 49.5% of total health expenditure in 2012, the last year for which WHO data is available. This places Cyprus among the top five countries in the WHO European Region in which citizens pay the most for health care as a percentage of income, and as the top country in the European Union in the same category.

To mobilize support for the reform process, Minister of Health Philippos Patsalis has initiated nationwide public consultations, soliciting the views of members of professional stakeholder groups, trade unions, and citizens. To date more than 200 meetings of this kind have taken place, where Mr Patsalis has explained the basic principles behind new health legislation to be introduced in Parliament before the end of 2014.

The Cypriot health system reform, which aims to achieve universal health coverage and ensure equity in access to health services, is planned to go into effect from mid-2015.

WHO receives EU vote of confidence

At a meeting in Brussels convened earlier in November by the European Commission, the EC expressed its support for WHO’s work on health reform in Cyprus by proposing to contribute €2 million to fund the engagement over the next two years.

The meeting was part of a larger agenda hosted by the EC Support Group for Cyprus with its partners, which included representatives of the ECB, the IMF, the International Labour Organization, WHO, and the World Bank, and who convene periodically to review progress and discuss ongoing work in relation to Cyprus’s macro-economic adjustment programme across all sectors.