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Have health insurance reforms in Tunisia attained their intended objectives?


A growing number of developing countries are currently promoting health system reforms with the aim of attaining ‘ universal health coverage’ (UHC). In Tunisia, several reforms have been undertaken over the last two decades to attain UHC with the goals of ensuring financial protection in health and enhancing access to healthcare. The first of these goals has recently been addressed in a companion paper by Abu-Zaineh et al. (Int J Health Care Financ Econ 13(1):73–93, 2013). The present paper seeks to assess whether these reforms have in fact enhanced access to healthcare. The average treatment effects of two insurance schemes, formal-mandatory (MHI) and state-subsidized (MAS) insurance, on the utilization of outpatient and inpatient healthcare are estimated using propensity score matching. Results support the hypothesis that both schemes (MHI and MAS) increase the utilization of healthcare. However, significant variations in the average effect of these schemes are observed across services and areas. For all the matching methods used and compared with those the excluded from cover, the increase in outpatient and inpatient services for the MHI enrollees was at least 19 and 26 %, respectively, in urban areas, while for MAS beneficiaries this increase was even more pronounced (28 and 75 % in the urban areas compared with 27 and 46 % in the rural areas for outpatient and inpatient services, respectively). One important conclusion that emerges is that the current health insurance schemes, despite improving accessibility to healthcare services, are nevertheless incapable of achieving effective coverage of the whole population for all services. Attaining the latter goal requires a strategy that targets the “trees” not the “forest”.

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We would like to thank The French National Research Agency (ANR) for its financial support to the research project (INEGSANTE-Les Suds-Aujourd’hui II-2010). This work has been completed thanks to the support of the A*MIDEX project (no. ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02) funded by the “Investissements d’Avenir” French Government program, managed by the French National Research Agency (ANR). Thanks are also due to Professor Jean-Paul Moatti, Professor Pedro P. Barros and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Mohammad Abu-Zaineh.

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Makhloufi, K., Ventelou, B. & Abu-Zaineh, M. Have health insurance reforms in Tunisia attained their intended objectives?. Int J Health Econ Manag. 15, 29–51 (2015).

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  • Universal health coverage
  • State-subsidized insurance
  • Healthcare utilization
  • Propensity score matching
  • Developing countries
  • Tunisia

JEL Classification

  • C31
  • C53
  • I 12
  • I 13
  • I 14