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The authors declare they have no competing interests.
JM and MFLC conceived the study. JM carried out data analysis and drafted the text. MFLC helped to draft and revise the manuscript and interpreted results. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This study assesses trends in horizontal equity in the utilization of healthcare services from 1998 to 2008--a period of major economic and social change in Brazil.
Data are from nationally representative surveys repeated in 1998, 2003, and 2008. We apply established methods for assessing horizontal inequity in healthcare access (the principle that people with the same healthcare needs should have similar access to healthcare services). Horizontal inequity is calculated as the difference between observed healthcare utilization and utilization predicted by healthcare needs. Outcomes examined include the probability of a medical, dental, or hospital visit during the past 12 months; any health service use in the past two weeks; and having a usual source of healthcare. We use monthly family income to measure differences in socioeconomic position. Healthcare needs include age, sex, self-rated health, and chronic conditions. Non-need factors include income, education, geography, health insurance, and Family Health Strategy coverage.
The probability of having at least one doctor visit in the past 12 months became substantially more equitable over time, ending with a slightly pro-rich orientation in 2008. Any hospitalization in the past 12 months was found to be pro-poor in all periods but became slightly less so in 2008. Dental visits showed the largest absolute decrease in horizontal inequity, although they were still the most inequitably (pro-rich) distributed outcome in 2008. Service use in the past two weeks showed decreased inequity in 2003 but exhibited no significant change between 2003 and 2008. Having a usual source of care became less pro-rich over time and was nearly income-neutral by 2008. Factors associated with greater inequities include income, having a private health plan, and geographic location. Factors associated with greater equity included health needs, schooling, and enrolment in the Family Health Strategy.
Healthcare utilization in Brazil appears to have become increasingly equitable over the past 10 years. Although this does not imply that equity in health outcomes has improved correspondingly, it does suggest that government policies aimed at increasing access, especially to primary care, have helped to make healthcare utilization in Brazil fairer over time.