In 2005, Vietnam’s legislature voted to develop a new health insurance system that would reduce most citizens’ out-of-pocket health-care costs and instructed the health ministry to take steps to make care more accessible, more affordable, and more effective—especially for those who lived in remote, mountainous regions. One of the challenges was how to manage scarce resources in order to constrain soaring costs. Another was how to coordinate with provinces and local governments (districts and communes)—which controlled much of the country’s health-care spending—in order to achieve national priorities, such as improved preventive care. During the next several years, the health ministry’s Department of Planning and Finance worked with those subnational units to improve the financial information system, hone strategies and plans, and align activities. By 2014, Vietnam’s government had more than tripled its per-capita health-care spending—to US$48.82 in 2014 from US$15.52 per capita in 2005, in current US dollars—a rate of growth that outpaced the average in both low-income and lower-middle-income countries. Although the ministry still struggled to keep patients’ costs down, the share of out-of-pocket spending fell to 45% in 2015 from 67% in 2005, according to government figures.
ISS staff members drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Hanoi, Vietnam by Simon Engler and Huong Dang in May, June, and August 2018. Case published in May 2019. This case is part of an ISS series on linking health priorities to the budget process.