Country Listing

Uruguay Table of Contents


State and Private Health Care

In 1971 about 82 percent of hospital beds were provided in establishments run by the Ministry of Public Health. The same public hospitals accounted for 69.5 percent of hospitalizations. About 61 percent of visits to general practitioners were covered by private health plans known as mutuales (mutuals). In the same year, 58.9 percent of the inhabitants of Montevideo were covered by these private associations. About 11.8 percent had the official health card of the Ministry of Public Health, entitling them to free health care. A further 6.8 percent had other health plans, usually through their place of work. This left 5.8 percent with multiple forms of coverage and 16.6 percent with no coverage at all.

In 1980 there were 9,089 public hospital beds, about threefifths in the capital and the remainder in the rest of the country. During the period of military rule from 1973 to 1985, the government had shifted health care spending toward military hospitals, which were, however, open only to relatives of the members of the armed forces. After 1985 the government made a sustained effort to increase health care coverage. From 1985 to 1988, public health cardholders increased from 566,000 to 692,000 in the interior but decreased slightly from 323,000 to 310,000 in Montevideo.

At the end of 1984, there were 918,000 members of private health plans in Montevideo and 325,000 in the rest of the country. By 1988 the numbers had risen to 963,000 and 488,000, respectively. Overall, this represented a 17 percent increase in the membership of the mutuales from 1984 to 1988. As with the state health provision, the greatest increase in coverage occurred in the interior, where it was most needed.

A concurrent effort was made to increase the proportion of infants receiving inoculations. In 1985 there were 503 cases of whooping cough, and in 1986 there were 1,117; but in the first nine months of 1988, there were only 21. Over the same period, the number of cases of measles first rose from 160 in 1985 to 1,190 in 1987 but then fell sharply to just 73 in the first nine months of 1988. The proportion of infants immunized before age one rose from 61 to 79 percent in 1985 to 80 to 88 percent in 1987, depending on the particular vaccination.

Government investment in health care equipment rose dramatically after the return to democracy, climbing from US$564,000 in 1985 to US$2.2 million in 1987. Over the same period, expenditures on construction of health care facilities rose from US$772,000 to US$2.7 million. Total spending by the Ministry of Public Health rose 34 percent in real terms, while spending on medications doubled. Grandiose plans for new hospitals to be financed by foreign development loans were announced in 1989, but their realization remained a distant prospect.

Data as of December 1990