Has the free maternal health policy eliminated out of pocket payments for maternal health services? Views of women, health providers and insurance managers in Northern Ghana

Publication Type:
Journal Article
PLoS ONE, 2018, 13 (2)
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© 2018 Dalinjong et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Introduction The free maternal health policy was implemented in Ghana in 2008 under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). The policy sought to eliminate out of pocket (OOP) payments and enhance the utilisation of maternal health services. It is unclear whether the policy had altered OOP payments for services. The study explored views on costs and actual OOP payments during pregnancy. The source of funding for payments was also explored. Methods A convergent parallel mixed methods design, involving quantitative and qualitative data collection approaches. The study was set in the Kassena-Nankana municipality, a rural area in Ghana. Women (n = 406) who utilised services during pregnancy were surveyed. Also, 10 focus groups discussions (FGDs) were held with women who used services during pregnancy as well as 28 in-depth interviews (IDIs) with midwives/nurses (n = 25) and insurance managers/directors (n = 3). The survey was analysed using descriptive statistics, focussing on costs from the women’s perspective. Qualitative data were audio recorded, transcribed and translated verbatim into English where necessary. The transcripts were read and coded into themes and sub-themes. Results The NHIS did not cover all expenses in relation to maternal health services. The overall mean for OOP cost during pregnancy was GH¢17.50 (US$8.60). Both FGDs and IDIs showed that women especially paid for drugs and ultrasound scan services. Sixty-five percent of the women used savings, whilst twenty-two percent sold assets to meet the OOP cost. Some women were unable to afford payments due to poverty and had to forgo treatment. Participants called for payments to be eliminated and for the NHIS to absorb the cost of emergency referrals. All participants admitted the benefits of the policy. Conclusion Women needed to make payments despite the policy. Measures should be put in place to eliminate payments to enable all women to receive services and promote universal health coverage.
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