The Government of Kazakhstan is engaged in a “root and branch” modernisation of the health care sector. One aspect of the raft of modernisation programmes was to revisit the State Guaranteed Health Benefits Package, with the aim to review citizen entitlements to healthcare. This paper reviews the ongoing evolution of the planning of the health benefits package in Kazakhstan, with the main challenges encountered, and critical lessons learned, to be considered for similar attempts elsewhere. The main conclusions are that: the design process requires a blend of technical and socio-political analysis, because it attracts public interest, and therefore political risks; the scale and burden of analysis need to be kept to manageable proportions; and the relationship between the benefits package and funding modalities needs to be carefully managed by the State, to ensure access to declared entitlements to all members, including the most vulnerable, while keeping the package financially feasible. © 2017 The Authors. International Journal of Health Planning and Management published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.