Total health spending fell
in one of three OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations between 2009 and 2011, with poor people in
countries hardest hit by the financial crisis at risk of longer-term problems
due to reduced access to medicines and check-ups, the OECD said on Thursday.
The drop is a sharp
reversal of strong growth in health spending in the years prior to the
financial crisis, the Paris-based organisation said, and makes it all the more
important that governments work to make healthcare systems more productive,
efficient and affordable.
Spending per capita fell in
11 of 33 OECD countries between 2009 and 2011, according to the 2013
"Health at a Glance" report.
In Greece, which has been
crippled by financial and economic crises in recent years, per capita spending
plunged by 11.1%, while in Ireland it dropped by 6.6%.
Growth also slowed
significantly in other countries, including the United States (1.3%) and Canada
Short-term outweighed by long-term
The OECD cautioned that
short-term benefits to budgets are likely to be greatly outweighed by the
longer-term impacts on health, and health spending.
Only Japan and Israel saw
the rate of health spending growth accelerate since 2009 compared with the
previous decade. Spending in South Korea continued to grow at more than 6% per
year from 2009, but more slowly than in previous years.
With recessions, downturns
and faltering economic growth hitting many OECD countries, governments have
sought to cut spending by reducing prices of medical goods, especially
pharmaceuticals, and by capping budgets and introducing wage cuts in hospitals.
More generic drugs
The OECD said the market
share of generic drugs has increased significantly over the past decade in many
countries. Yet generics still represent less than 25% of the market in
Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Japan and France, compared with about
75% in Germany and Britain.
More than three-quarters of
OECD countries reported a cut in real-term spending on prevention programmes in
2011 over 2010, and half spent less than in 2008.
Cuts to spending on
cost-effective prevention programmes on obesity, harmful use of alcohol and
smoking are a cause for concern, the report said.
Reductions in the supply of
health services and changes in their financing through increases in direct
out-of-pocket payments for patients are also affecting access to care.
The most vulnerable in society
After years of improvement,
waiting times for some operations in Portugal, Spain, England and Ireland are
now on the rise, the OECD said.
It also warned that across
the OECD, the poorest people are worst affected and may be going without care
they need such as medicines or check-ups for chronic conditions.
"This may have
long-term health and economic consequences on the most vulnerable in
society," it said.