Effects of managed care mechanisms on access to healthcare: results from a qualitative study in Colombia


Correspondence to: I. Vargas, Health Policy and Health Services Research Group, Health Policy Research Unit, Consortium for Health Care and Social Services of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: ivargas@consorci.org



Managed competition has underpinned most health sector reforms aimed at improving access and efficiency, in Latin America and other countries. The aim of the paper is to analyse barriers to healthcare that emerge from the introduction of managed care mechanisms in Colombia.


Qualitative, exploratory, and descriptive-interpretative research was carried out on the basis of case studies of four healthcare networks, comprised of insurers and their providers. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with a theoretical sample of informants (managers, professionals, and users), between 24 and 61 per network. The final sample size was reached by saturation of information. An inductive thematic content analysis was conducted. The study areas were two municipalities of Colombia, in which most of the population live in poverty.


A number of managed care mechanisms that act as barriers to access were identified by all informants, regardless of area and type of insurance regime. These mechanisms act directly on the patient (authorizations, fragmented insurance) or on the providers (purchasing mechanisms or limits to medical practice). The predominant mechanism appears to be related to the type of agreement established between insurers and providers. The reason for these barriers, according to informants, is insurers' search for profitability. As a consequence, there is delay in or no access to adequate treatment. This is particularly evident in secondary care.


A variety of managed care strategies that effectively hinder access to healthcare have been introduced by insurers, casting doubt on the usefulness of their application in low-income countries and profit-making contexts. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.