Health Care Around the World International Health Care Systems

Health Care Around the World: Portugal

Portugal is similar to Norway in that it is a very centralized health care system. Despite the fact that Portugal ranks highly according to the WHO, there is widespread discontent with the Portuguese system.

Most individuals in Portugal are insured by the state-run, single-payer National Health System. However, 25% of the population is insured through an occupation based insurance scheme. These occupation based schemes include most government, military and telecommunication workers. “These plans were originally intended to be incorporated into the NHS, but their powerful constituencies have prevented that from occurring.”

Funding. Financing of the health care system is generated from general tax revenues. Health care spending accounts for 13% of government revenues. The National Health System (NHS) has an annual global budget, but it is often exceeded by a significant amount. Individuals in the occupation-based insurance schemes pay a premium of about 1% of their salary.

Private Insurance. About 10% of the population has private insurance. Private insurance pays for hospital stays and specialist care. Because there is no guaranteed renewability, premiums are often significantly raised or customers are dropped when they have very high claims amounts.

Physician Compensation. About half of primary care doctors are government employees and the other half work in private practice. Most specialists elect to go into private practice and are paid on a contractual basis by NHS.

Physician Choice. Patients must choose doctors from a list and can only change GPs with a written application. GPs act as gatekeepers. Referrals from the patient’s GP is needed to access specialist care.

Copayment/Deductibles. For most services, there is no or little copayments. For diagnostic tests, hospital admissions, specialists visits and prescription drugs, however, copayments can run up to 40% or more.

Technology. Portugal is seriously lacking in medical technology. The U.S. has 7 times more MRI units per person than Portugal and 20% more CT scanners.

Waiting Times. Waiting times are very long in Portugal. Further, there are often long waits for specialist visits. The European Observatory on Health Systems says the Portugal is heading towards “de facto rationing.” Because of this, many Portuguese either go to Spain for treatment or head to the emergency department. In fact, “at least 25 percent of emergency room patients do not need immediate treatment.”

Benefits Covered. On paper, all benefits are covered, but in reality, many benefits–such as dental care and rehabilitation–are rarely provided.