Research for stronger health systems during and after crisis

Free health care for under-fives, expectant and recent mothers? Evaluating the impact of Sierra Leone’s free health care initiative

This paper reports the findings of a study evaluating the impact of Sierra Leone’s 2010 Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI). It uses two nationally representative surveys to identify the impact of the policy on utilisation of maternal care services by pregnant women and recent mothers as well as the impact on curative health care services and out-of-pocket payments for consultation and prescription in children under the age of 5 years.

Free health care for under-fives, expectant and recent mothers? Evaluating the impact of Sierra Leone’s free health care initiative

 Ijeoma Edoka, Tim Ensor, Barbara McPake, Rogers Amara, Fu-Min Tseng and Joseph Edem-Hotah

Health Economics Review (2016) 6:19 DOI 10.1186/s13561-016-0096-4

Abstract

This study evaluates the impact of Sierra Leone’s 2010 Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI). It uses two nationally representative surveys to identify the impact of the policy on utilisation of maternal care services by pregnant women and recent mothers as well as the impact on curative health care services and out-of-pocket payments for consultation and prescription in children under the age of 5 years. A Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD) is applied in the case of young children and a before-after estimation approach, adjusted for time trends in the case of expectant and recent mothers. Our results suggest that children affected by the FHCI have a lower probability of incurring any health expenditure in public, non-governmental and missionary health facilities. However, a proportion of eligible children are observed to incur some health expenditure in participating facilities with no impact of the policy on the level of out-of-pocket health expenditure. Similarly, no impact is observed with the utilisation of services in these facilities. Utilisation of informal care is observed to be higher among non-eligible children while in expectant and recent mothers, we find substantial but possibly transient increases in the use of key maternal health care services in public facilities following the implementation of the FHCI. The diminishing impact on utilisation mirrors experience in other countries that have implemented free health care initiatives and demonstrates the need for greater domestic and international efforts to ensure that resources are sufficient to meet increasing demand and monitor the long run impact of these policies.

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