Income-related inequality in health and health care utilization in Chile, 2000-2009

Felipe Vásquez, Guillermo Paraje, Manuel Estay

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Objective. To measure and explain income-related inequalities in health and health care utilization in the period 2000-2009 in Chile, while assessing variations within the country and determinants of inequalities. Methods. Data from the National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey for 2000, 2003, and 2009 were used to measure inequality in health and health care utilization. Income-related inequality in health care utilization was assessed with standardized concentration indices for the probability and total number of visits to specialized care, generalized care, emergency care, dental care, mental health care, and hospital care. Self-assessed health status and physical limitations were used as proxies for health care need. Standardization was performed with demographic and need variables. The decomposition method was applied to estimate the contribution of each factor used to calculate the concentration index, including ethnicity, employment status, health insurance, and region of residence. Results. In Chile, people in lower-income quintiles report worse health status and more physical limitations than people in higher quintiles. In terms of health service utilization, prorich inequities were found for specialized and dental visits with a slight pro-rich utilization for general practitioners and all physician visits. All pro-rich inequities have decreased over time. Emergency room visits and hospitalizations are concentrated among lower-income quintiles and have increased over time. Higher education and private health insurance contribute to a pro-rich inequity in dentist, general practitioner, specialized, and all physician visits. Income contributes to a pro-rich inequity in specialized and dentist visits, whereas urban residence and economic activity contribute to a pro-poor inequity in emergency room visits. Conclusions. The pattern of health care utilization in Chile is consistent with policies implemented in the country and in the intended direction. The significant income inequality in the use of specialized and dental services, which favor the rich, deserves policy makers' attention and further investigation related to the quality of these services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalRevista Panamericana de Salud Publica/Pan American Journal of Public Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Chile
  • Equity in access
  • Equity in health
  • Health economics
  • Health inequalities


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