We examine the willingness of health care consumers to pay formal fees for health care use and how this willingness to pay is associated with past informal payments. We use data from a survey carried out in Hungary in 2010 among a representative sample of 1,037 respondents. The contingent valuation method is used to elicit the willingness to pay official charges for health care services covered by the social health insurance if certain quality attributes (regarding the health care facility, access to the services and health care personnel) are guaranteed. A bivariate probit model is applied to examine the relationship between willingness to pay and past informal payments. We find that 66% of the respondents are willing to pay formal fees for specialist examinations and 56% are willing to pay for planned hospitalizations if these services are provided with certain quality and access attributes. The act of making past informal payments for health care services is positively associated with the willingness to pay formal charges. The probability that a respondent is willing to pay official charges for health care services is 22% points higher for specialist examinations and 45% points higher for hospitalization if the respondent paid informally during the last 12 months. The introduction of formal fees should be accompanied by adequate service provision to assure acceptance of the fees. Furthermore, our results suggest that the problem of informal patient payments may remain even after the implementation of user fees.
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