Financing of health care from government and compulsory health insurance schemes

Health system financing arrangements can be broadly classified according to their compulsory or voluntary nature, providing coverage against the cost of health care by purchasing health care services. In some countries, health care might be predominantly financed through government schemes by which individuals are automatically entitled to care based on their residency. In other cases, compulsory health insurance schemes (either through public or private entities) linked to the payment of social contributions or health insurance premiums finance the bulk of health spending. In addition to these, a varying proportion of health care spending consists households’ out-of-pocket payments – either as standalone payments or as part of co-payment arrangements – as well as various forms of voluntary payment schemes such as voluntary health insurance. In the LAC region, substantial fragmentation in health systems often leads to coexisting financing schemes and in some cases, overlap (see Chapter 2). Most standard models of public financing exist in the region (Lorenzoni et al., 2019[1]).

Figure 6.5 reports the expenditure financed by general government health expenditure (which includes government expenditure and funds linked to compulsory health insurance) as a share of GDP in 2017 and its trend in the 2010-17 period. The countries with the highest share are Cuba (10.5%), Argentina (6.6%), Uruguay (6.6%) and Costa Rica (5.7%). The countries with the lowest share are Venezuela and Haiti, with 0.2 and 1% the only two below a share of 2% in the region and well below the LAC average of 3.7%. On average, the LAC region increased its share of public expenditure as percentage of GDP by around 0.38 percentage points. Nicaragua was the only country reporting an increase of more than 2 percentage points in the period, whereas ten countries saw a decrease: Mexico (-0.1), Costa Rica (-0.2), Bahamas (-0.3), Panama (-0.39), Haiti (-0.50), Grenada (-0.51), Honduras (-0.55), Barbados (-0.62), Antigua and Barbuda (-0.82) and Venezuela (-2.40).

In the majority of LAC countries, general government health expenditure constituted the main source of funding in 2017 (regional average of 54.3%) (Figure 6.6). Cuba has the largest share with 89.4%, followed by Costa Rica with 75.1%, the only two countries over 75%. On the other side, the lowest share were observed in Honduras (11.9%), Haiti (15.9%) and Guatemala (35.8%). In average, general government health expenditure as share of current health expenditure grew by 2.1 percentage points in the LAC region between 2010 and 2017. The largest increase occurred in Venezuela (40.2 percentage points) and Suriname (25.9), while reductions happened in 13 countries, led by Antigua and Barbuda (-23) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (-23.1).

Healthcare is one of multiple governmental public services for which they devote their overall budgets. A number of factors including, among others, the type of system in place, the fiscal space and the policy and political priority of the health sector determines the size of public funds allocated to health. Relative budget priorities may also shift from year to year as a result of political decision-making and economic effects. In 2017, general government health expenditure as a share of total government expenditure stood at 12.75% in LAC, well below the 24.5% in OECD countries (Figure 6.7). In Costa Rica and Panama more than 20% of public spending was dedicated to health care. On the other hand, less than 6% of government expenditure was allocated to health care in Haiti and Venezuela. In the 2010-17 period, public health expenditure as a share of government expenditure increased the most in Panama, similar to the 8 percentage points increase in OECD countries, while it decreased the most in Antigua and Barbuda (-6 percentage points) and Venezuela (-4.8).


[1] Lorenzoni, L. et al. (2019), “Health systems characteristics: A survey of 21 Latin American and Caribbean countries”, OECD Health Working Papers, No. 111, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD/The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank 2020

This Work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 IGO license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 IGO).