Dental care is amongst medical out-of-pocket payments in Finland.

Health & wellbeing

People in Finland are more likely than people in other countries in northern and western Europe to experience financial hardship caused by out-of-pocket payments for health care, according to findings published in a new WHO/Europe report.

The report “Can people afford to pay for health care? New evidence on financial protection in Finland” is based on data collected every 5 years by Statistics Finland. It is part of a series of country-based reviews monitoring financial protection in health systems across the WHO European Region.

Financial protection is central to universal health coverage, which is at the heart of WHO’s European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe”. Universal health coverage means everyone can access the quality health services they need without experiencing financial hardship.

Out-of-pocket payments

According to WHO/Europe’s new analysis, nearly 4% of households in Finland experience catastrophic health spending. Catastrophic spending refers to out-of-pocket payments that are large in relation to a household’s capacity to pay for health care.

The report shows that catastrophic spending affects poorer people, older households and long-term unemployed people the most. It is mainly driven by out-of-pocket payments for medicines, outpatient services and dental care. Unmet need for these types of care is also more prevalent in Finland than in other countries in western Europe.

These findings reflect Finland’s complex health coverage arrangements, which result in regional differences in waiting times and co-payments, and favour people in work and wealthier households.

Measures to reduce financial hardship

New measures to reduce co-payments for municipal health services were introduced in Finland this year, and additional measures are planned for 2022.

According to the report, there are other options that could reduce financial hardship for people accessing health care in Finland. These include:

  • limiting co-payments for outpatient services, especially primary care;
  • strengthening protection from co-payments for poorer households and people with chronic conditions;
  • improving the protective effect of co-payment “ceilings” by lowering and merging the 3 ceilings into 1, and turning it into a cap on all co-payments;
  • digitally monitoring all co-payments to remove administrative barriers to protection;
  • improving policies on prescribing and dispensing, rather than using co-payments to contain public spending on medicines.

Through the WHO Barcelona Office for Health Systems Financing, WHO/Europe carries out context-specific monitoring of financial protection in over 35 countries, including Finland.

The WHO Barcelona Office also provides tailored technical assistance to countries to reduce unmet need and financial hardship by identifying and addressing gaps in coverage.

Source: World Health Organization