The impact of user charges on patient choice of healthcare services in Ireland

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Fox, Aimée
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University College Cork
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This research assesses the impact of user charges in the context of consumer choice to ascertain how user charges in healthcare impact on patient behaviour in Ireland. Quantitative data is collected from a subset of the population in walk-in Urgent Care Clinics and General Practitioner surgeries to assess their responses to user charges and whether user charges are a viable source of part-funding healthcare in Ireland. Examining the economic theories of Becker (1965) and Grossman (1972), the research has assessed the impact of user charges on patient choice in terms of affordability and accessibility in healthcare. The research examined a number of private, public and part-publicly funded healthcare services in Ireland for which varying levels of user charges exist depending on patients’ healthcare cover. Firstly, the study identifies the factors affecting patient choice of privately funded walk-in Urgent Care Clinics in Ireland given user charges. Secondly, the study assesses patient response to user charges for a mainly public or part-publicly provided service; prescription drugs. Finally, the study examines patients’ attitudes towards the potential application of user charges for both public and private healthcare services when patient choice is part of a time-money trade-off, convenience choice or preference choice. These services are valued in the context of user charges becoming more prevalent in healthcare systems over time. The results indicate that the impact of user charges on healthcare services vary according to socio-economic status. The study shows that user charges can disproportionately affect lower income groups and consequently lead to affordability and accessibility issues. However, when valuing the potential application of user charges for three healthcare services (MRI scans, blood tests and a branded over a generic prescription drug), this research indicates that lower income individuals are willing to pay for healthcare services, albeit at a lower user charge than higher income earners. Consequently, this study suggests that user charges may be a feasible source of part-financing Irish healthcare, once the user charge is determined from the patients’ perspective, taking into account their ability to pay.
Healthcare , Health , User charges
Fox, A. 2016. The impact of user charges on patient choice of healthcare services in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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