Healthcare payments could drive households with no health insurance coverage into financial catastrophe, which might lead them to cut spending on necessities, sell assets, or use credit. In extreme cases, healthcare payments could have devastating consequences on the household economic status that would push them into extreme poverty. Using nationally representative surveys from three Arab countries, namely, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine, this paper examines the incidence, intensity and distribution of catastrophic health payments, and assesses the poverty impact of out-of-pocket health payments (OOP). The OOP for healthcare were considered catastrophic if it exceeded 10% of a household’s total expenditure or 40% of non-food expenditure. The poverty impact was evaluated using poverty head counts and poverty gaps before and after OOP. Results show that OOP exacerbate households’ living severely in Egypt, pushing more than one-fifth of the population into a financial catastrophe and 3% into extreme poverty in 2011. However, in Jordan and Palestine, the disruptive impact of OOP remains modest over time. In the three countries, the catastrophic health payment is the problem of the better off households. Poverty alleviation policies should help reduce the reliance on OOP to finance healthcare. Moving toward universal health coverage could also be a promising option to protect households from the catastrophic economic consequences of health care payments.
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