Georgia’s health financing reforms show tangible benefits for the population

Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs

From left: Aparnaa Somanathan and Susanna Hayrapetyau, World Bank; David Sergeenko, Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs; and Hans Kluge and Sarah Thomson, WHO/Europe.

The Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia held a meeting with WHO/Europe, the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Tbilisi on 24 June 2015 to present the findings of a new survey on health care utilization and expenditure. The meeting was attended by the Prime Minister of Georgia, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education and Science, the Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, the Minister of Agriculture, representatives of government, nongovernment and international organizations and around 150 health system stakeholders.

"Ensuring that health care is accessible and affordable is a priority for the government," said Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili as he opened the meeting.

"Georgia now has a universal foundation for human rights in health," said David Sergeenko, the Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs. "Today, all Georgians have access to basic health care financed by the government."

Over 90% of population benefits from universal health care

In 2013, the Government of Georgia launched the Universal Health Care Programme to improve access to health care and strengthen financial protection. The survey shows how, as a result of the reform, over 90% of the population now benefits from publicly financed health coverage, up from 40% in 2012 and 25% in 2010. Over half of these people did not have any health coverage before the reform. The survey also indicates that people are more likely now than in 2010 to consult a health care provider when sick; financial barriers to access and out-of-pocket payments have fallen, especially for outpatient visits and hospital care; and user experience of the health system has improved.

"Georgia has shown how it can take decisive action and turn trends around in a very short period of time," said Hans Kluge, Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health at WHO/Europe.

Georgia's significant movement towards universal health coverage was made possible by a much-needed increase in public spending on health. The government also took back responsibility for purchasing publicly financed health services from private insurance companies.

Need for continued public investment

In spite of remarkable progress, all sides acknowledge the need for continued public investment in the health sector. Public spending on health remains low in Georgia, in comparison to most countries in the WHO European Region, while out-of-pocket payments are high.

"With additional public funding – and a focus on active purchasing to ensure resources are used as efficiently as possible – the government could expand the scope and depth of coverage to address unmet needs and improve financial protection," said Sarah Thomson, Senior Health Financing Specialist with the WHO Barcelona Office for Health Systems Strengthening.

The survey was jointly sponsored by WHO/Europe, USAID and the World Bank and carried out by the National Statistics Office of Georgia in August 2014. It follows previous rounds carried out in 2010 and 2007.