Incentives for voluntary health insurance in a national health system: Evidence from Italy. Health Policy.
The paper evaluates the extent to which the government’s policy to encourage the purchase of voluntary health insurance (VHI) may have led to income-related horizontal inequity in access to health care in a universal health care system (NHS). Ad hoc tax return data for the universe of Italian taxpayers for years 2009-2016 are used to estimate the tax benefits granted to taxpayers who hold VHI, the redistributive impact, and the public budget effect. The income elasticity of tax benefits is estimated using tax return data and considering some taxpayers’ characteristics (income class, gender, age, and geographic area). Standard inequality indices are computed to assess income-related horizontal inequity in access to health care. Tax incentives, especially those granted to employer-paid health insurance, have a sizeable impact on tax revenue and introduce into the Italian NHS significant income-related horizontal and vertical inequity in access to health care. The results suggest a distributional profile of tax incentives that is highly concentrated in favor of wealthier taxpayers. Our analysis adds novel evidence that may contribute to the current debate on whether and to what extent countries in which all citizens have access to free healthcare and equal standards of healthcare services should subsidize VHI, especially when the coverage doubles the healthcare services provided by universal public insurance. We show that VHI reduces tax revenues and introduces disparities among citizens in terms of access to healthcare services.