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Letter From Tbilisi
February 27, 2002

The Burden of Out-of-Pocket Payments for Health Care in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, (Dr Skarbinski), Department of Health Research and Policy (Dr Baker), and Center for Biomedical Ethics (Dr Raffin), Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif; Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga (Dr Walker); and Health Science Center, Tbilisi State University (Dr Kobaladze) and National Information Learning Center (Dr Kirtava), Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

JAMA. 2002;287(8):1043-1049. doi:10.1001/jama.287.8.1043
Context

Context In the 1990s, the Republic of Georgia instituted health care reforms to convert the centralized, state-operated health care system inherited from the Soviet Union to a decentralized, market-driven system of health care delivery. Under the new system, 87% of health care expenditures are financed through out-of-pocket payments at the point of service.

Objective To describe the effects of health care reforms on access to care and health care financing among ill residents of Tbilisi, Georgia.

Design, Setting, and Participants A probability-proportionate-to-size cluster survey conducted in 1999 of 248 households containing 306 household members who had been ill in the past 6 months in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Main Outcome Measures Reported health care utilization, out-of-pocket expenditures, and financing practices.

Results Of sick household members, 51% used official health care services at hospitals and clinics; 49% did not use official services and sought advice from relatives or friends, used traditional medicines, or did nothing. Those with serious illness were more likely to seek care through official services (82%) than those with nonserious illness (27%). Ninety-three percent of respondents said costs were the major deterrent to obtaining health care. Ten percent of ill household members reported that they were unable to obtain health care because of high costs; 16% reported being unable to afford all the medications necessary to treat their illness. Sixty-one percent of ill household members used savings to pay for health care expenditures and 19% of those able to obtain care had to use strategies such as borrowing money or selling personal items to pay for health care. Total out-of-pocket health care expenditures (53%) were paid for by borrowing money or selling personal items. A significant portion of households with ill members (87%) reported an interest in purchasing health care insurance.

Conclusions Economic disruption and health care reforms have led to access problems and out-of-pocket financing strategies that include reliance on personal savings, selling personal items, and borrowing money. Future reforms should consider an appropriate system for health care insurance risk pooling for the population of Tbilisi, Georgia.

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