Leveraging Health Data to Inform Policy Change Mar 16, 2018

Leveraging Health Data to Inform Policy Change

In a world inundated with information, health systems practitioners increasingly face the challenge of persuading policymakers to use health data in their policy decisions.

Yet for countries on the path to strengthening their health systems with limited budgets, health expenditure data can serve as a vital input for diagnosing systems challenges, gathering evidence on the cost and impact of reforms and monitoring the results of policy changes to the health system.

The USAID Health Finance and Governance Project (HFG Project) recently hosted the first of a three-part webinar series exploring how practitioners can employ health data to inform policy and advocate for health system resources.

Three technical experts detailed their experience in leveraging data to make the case for reforms, including JLN Steering Group member Dr. Lydia Dsane-Selby, Deputy Chief Operations Executive of the Ghana National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).

Several JLN countries, including Ghana, have made concerted efforts to use data to both monitor and inform their health financing systems. Dr. Dsane-Selby shared her insights alongside Simon Nassa, an economist at the Ministry of Health in Burkina Faso and Karishma Bhuwanee, a resource tracking advisor with the HFG Project.

Health Data Makes the Case for Lower Drug Prices in Ghana
Dr. Dsane-Selby and her team at the NHIA, which tracks health spending and claims, supported a recent effort to investigate the country’s high medicines costs. Their analysis of the relevant health claims data revealed that the value-added tax (VAT) on medicines produced outside of the country was the primary cause of high drug prices.  

The NHIA presented a case to remove the VAT to the Ministry of Finance by sharing a financial analysis of Ghana’s drug prescription policy and the frequency of costly claims for essential medicines.

Patients and health consumers in Ghana will see the price of medicines fall by 30 percent in May 2018. The Ministry of Finance and the Chamber of Pharmacy announced that Ghana would officially remove the value-added tax (VAT) on medication, a boon for the country’s movement toward universal health coverage and financial protection.

Recommendations for Increasing Data Use by Policymakers
After elucidating on NHIA’s success in leveraging data to inform a significant health policy decision, Dr. Dsane-Selby offered three recommendations for how other data managers could increase the likelihood of data usage in policy decisions:

  1. Data sources need to be credible, continuous and institutionalized

    In Ghana’s case, national health spending and claims data are housed within and monitored by the country’s insurance scheme. Government institutions, like the Ministry of Health, recognized their data as credible and reliable.
  2. Data should align with strategic policy objectives

    Policymakers may find one-off reports or surveys on health data useful, to some degree, but Dr. Dsane-Selby reflected that delivering data based on specific policy objectives is a more effective approach to ensure policymakers consider data-based evidence when making decisions.
  3. Data dissemination should use language that policymakers understand

    Policymakers do not always share the same level of understanding of the nuances of health financing as a technical expert; practitioners should translate findings into messaging that policymakers can relate to and use.

Upcoming HFG Webinar on Making Health Data Count
The next HFG webinar will be announced soon. Please click here to access the first webinar recording on using health data to inform policy change.

Related JLN Learning
The JLN has been jointly problem-solving on leveraging health data through many of its collaboratives, including Using Data Analytics to Monitor Provider Payments, Primary Health Care Measurement for Improvement, and Domestic Resource Mobilization.