How do healthcare providers respond to multiple funding flows? A conceptual framework and options to align them

Barasa E, Mathauer I, Kabia E, Ezumah N, Mbau R, Honda A, Dkhimi F, Onwujekwe O, Phuong HT, Hanson K
Health Policy Plan. 2021;36

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Provider payment methods are a key health policy lever because they influence healthcare provider behaviour and affect health system objectives, such as efficiency, equity, financial protection and quality. Previous research focused on analysing individual provider payment methods in isolation, or on the actions of individual purchasers. However, purchasers typically use a mix of provider payment methods to pay healthcare providers and most health systems are fragmented with multiple purchasers. From a health provider perspective, these different payments are experienced as multiple funding flows which together send a complex set of signals about where they should focus their effort. In this article, we argue that there is a need to expand the analysis of provider payment methods to include an analysis of the interactions of multiple funding flows and the combined effect of their incentives on the provision of healthcare services. The purpose of the article is to highlight the importance of multiple funding flows to health facilities and present a conceptual framework to guide their analysis. The framework hypothesizes that when healthcare providers receive multiple funding flows, they may find certain funding flows more favourable than others based on how these funding flows compare to each other on a range of attributes. This creates a set of incentives, and consequently, healthcare providers may alter their behaviour in three ways: resource shifting, service shifting and cost shifting. We describe these behaviours and how they may affect health system objectives. Our analysis underlines the need to align the incentives generated by multiple funding flows. To achieve this, we propose three policy strategies that relate to the governance of healthcare purchasing: reducing the fragmentation of health financing arrangements to decrease the number of multiple purchaser arrangements and funding flows; harmonizing signals from multiple funding flows; and constraining providers from responding to undesirable incentives.