Republic of Slovenia: Selected Issues Paper

This Selected Issues paper examines social spending reform and fiscal savings in Slovenia. Rising expenditure has been at the root of Slovenia’s fiscal deterioration since the onset of the crisis. The paper explores reform options to reduce Slovenia’s social spending over the medium and long term. It discusses key features of the pension system, and analyzes the evolution of pension spending in the absence of reforms. The paper also examines the health and education spending and provides a framework to assess their efficiency relative to other countries.

Abstract

This Selected Issues paper examines social spending reform and fiscal savings in Slovenia. Rising expenditure has been at the root of Slovenia’s fiscal deterioration since the onset of the crisis. The paper explores reform options to reduce Slovenia’s social spending over the medium and long term. It discusses key features of the pension system, and analyzes the evolution of pension spending in the absence of reforms. The paper also examines the health and education spending and provides a framework to assess their efficiency relative to other countries.

Social Spending Reform and Fiscal Savings in Slovenia1

A. Introduction

1. Slovenia’s public finances have deteriorated significantly since the onset of the global crisis. Slovenia suffered one of the deepest recessions among euro area countries, with real GDP declining some 10 percent. In addition to global factors impacting economic activity, domestic vulnerabilities have been at work as well and culminated in a severe financial crisis in 2013. This required significant public support to six banks, at a fiscal cost of about 10 percent of GDP. As a result, Slovenia’s fiscal position deteriorated significantly: fiscal deficits rose from near-zero in 2007-08 to almost 14 percent of GDP in 2013, and the debt ratio quadrupled, rising to close to 80 percent at end-June 2014.

2. Addressing the high and rising public spending is key to restoring public-finance sustainability. Rising expenditure has been at the root of Slovenia’s fiscal deterioration since the onset of the crisis. Even excluding one-off bank support costs, public spending is estimated to have increased by more than 5 percentage points of GDP during 2008–14, one of the largest deteriorations compared to Eastern European peers. Moreover, with an expenditure-to-GDP ratio now at some 46 percent (excluding bank support costs), Slovenia has switched from being broadly in line with similar-income countries, and below the OECD public spending average, prior to the crisis, to the high end among comparators, and even well above the OECD average. On the other hand, the revenue ratio has remained broadly stable, and is above both comparable country levels and the OECD average. In this context, focusing consolidation efforts on the expenditure side appears appropriate.

A01ufig1
Sources: Slovenia’s Ministry of Finance, IMF staff calculations. Slovenia’s government expenditure has been adjusted for banks’ recapitalization.

3. Social spending has been the largest and fastest growing category, and as such, could deliver substantial fiscal savings. Spending on social benefits increased by more than 3 percentage points of GDP during 2007–13, to about 18 percent of GDP. This is currently the largest expenditure category, of which pension spending accounts for almost two-thirds (close to 12 percent of GDP). Publicly-funded spending on health and education, including entities outside the general government amounted to almost 12 percent of GDP in 2011. Curbing the fast-rising trend of pension expenditures, and reducing health and education spending, could thus help support fiscal consolidation over the medium term.

A01ufig2

Slovenia: General Government Operations

(2007–13, percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Sources: Eurostat, and OECD.

4. This paper will explore reform options to reduce Slovenia’s social spending over the medium and long term. Section II focuses on pensions: it discusses key features of the system, analyzes the evolution of pension spending in the absence of reforms, and discusses possible reform options to help reduce spending and achieve long-term sustainability of the system. Section III focuses on health and education spending: it provides a framework to assess their efficiency relative to other countries, and discusses reform options to help narrow the efficiency gap. Section IV concludes with a summary of policy recommendations.

B. Pensions—Issues and Reform Options

Key issues

5. Pension spending has been rising due to both demographics and the system’s generosity. The increase in public pension spending (2¼ percent of GDP) over 2007–13 was partly due to population aging, as the share of the individuals 60 years and older in the total population rose from 21.5 to 23.8 percent. But this was also due to the system’s generosity (Box 1), in particular the relatively low statutory retirement age, early retirement options, high coverage rates (the ratio of pensioners to the elderly), and benefit determination, including its indexation. These features facilitated an increase in the inflow of pensioners, whose share in the population of 65 and older rose from 107 percent in 2010 to 121 percent in 2013. They also led to one of the highest replacement ratios (ratio of pension to wage) among both advanced and emerging European countries.

A01ufig3
Sources: Eurostat and Ministry of Finance.

6. At the same time, the pension system’s contribution base has been shrinking. The share of contributors in the population aged 15 to 59 has been declining: in 2013, coverage among working age population was only 88 percent of its 2008 level. While this trend has been in part due to employment losses resulting from the deep recession, it also reflects longer-term structural factors, including the increased uptake of tertiary education. Combined with the rise in the number of pensioners as a share of the elderly, the shrinking in the contribution base has already resulted in a “system dependency ratio” (ratio of pensioners to contributors) far in excess of the old-age dependency ratio (ratio of elderly to people of working age) – in 2013, these ratios were 0.67 versus 0.25, respectively.

7. The combination of rising benefits and a shrinking contribution base has already led to deficits that had to be covered from general revenues. While pension contribution rates are relatively high—Slovenia ranks in the upper third of OECD countries—they have been increasingly insufficient to finance benefits. For example, in 2013, only some 75 percent of benefit expenditures could be financed by contributions, down from 85 percent in 2008, with transfers from the budget needed to fill the gap correspondingly widening to some 3 percent of GDP in recent years.

8. In response to these pressures, a set of parametric reforms were adopted at end-2012. The reforms aimed to decelerate the increase of pension expenditures through slowing down the inflow of new retirees and lowering the benefits of both new retirees and existing pensioners. The main measures taken include the following:

  • ➢ A gradual increase in the statutory retirement age to 65 for men and women;

  • ➢ A tightening of the conditions of early retirement by increasing the earliest permissible retirement age by 1 year on average and revising slightly the list of occupations permitting early retirement;

  • ➢ Introduction of early retirement penalties for the remaining occupational categories with access to early retirement and deferred retirement benefit increases;

  • ➢ An increase from 19 to 24 years in the period over which pensionable earnings are averaged in the determination of entry pensions;

  • ➢ Indexing of benefits to a composite index of wages and prices, with respective weights of 60 and 40 percent, and a freeze in indexation for 2014 -15 to facilitate short-term fiscal consolidation.

9. The 2012 reform is expected to have a temporary short-term fiscal effect, and only a modest long-term impact. The main short-term impact relates to the temporary suspension of benefit indexation, estimated to contribute to a cumulative reduction in pension expenditure of 0.3 percent of GDP over 2014–15. However, this is expected to end in 2016. Moreover, the sharp deceleration of inflows into retirement in early 2014 is also temporary, as it is largely the result of the sharply higher inflows in the months immediately preceding the reform’s implementation, as people close to the statutory retirement age rushed to retire early. Over the long run, the 2012 reform can be expected to moderate the increase in pension spending, as the gradual increase in the statutory retirement age curtails the inflow rate of old-age pensioners. These long run effects are difficult to quantify, as they are highly sensitive to behavioral responses to the reforms, with their effect estimated in the range of 1½ to 2 percent of GDP by 2050 (assuming a decline in old-age pension eligibility rates from 120 to 105 percent and allowing for some offsetting increase in the uptake of disability pensions).

10. However, a number of important features were not addressed by the reform, and are expected to put pressure on the system’s long-term viability. These include the following:

  • Benefit indexation: Slovenia’s benefit indexation regime on the basis of both wage and prices remains among the more generous by international standards (Table 1).

  • Pension bonus: The annual pension bonus, which is a residue from previous pension regulations used in the republics of former Yugoslavia, has been maintained. In 2013, it represented 0.35 percent of GDP, or 2.9 percent of the old age benefit expenditures.

  • Tax treatment of pensions: The treatment is generous, including various tax exemptions. First, while the basic income tax schedule has four brackets, over 98 percent of old-age pension benefits fall into the first two lower brackets. This basic structure is augmented by a general tax relief applicable to all Slovenian residents—including pensioners—which reduces the taxable income tax base by EUR 275 per month. Furthermore, pensioners also enjoy a 13.5 percent reduction of their assessed tax. Consequently, only pension benefits exceeding EUR 1,095 per month are subject to income tax. This implies that only 5 percent of beneficiaries pay any income tax.

Table 1.

Pension Indexation Rules in OECD

article image
Source: Pensions at a Glance (OECD. 2013),
A01ufig5

Slovenia: Distribution of Old Age Pensions vs. PIT Brackets

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Sources: Ministry of Finance and IMF staff calculations.

Analysis

11. Slovenia is facing sharp population aging pressures in the coming decades. According to the United Nations’ projections, the old-age dependency ratio is expected to more than double to reach 53 percent by 2050, one of the steepest increases in the euro area. Moreover, the “system dependency ratio” is likely to rise even faster, from 67 percent now to 145 percent by 2050. The latter assumes a declining eligibility ratio, gradually reaching 105 percent as result of the retirement age increase and stricter early retirement rules, partly offset by a higher take up of other forms of social insurance, notably disability pensions.

A01ufig6
Sources: Ministry of Labro and IMF staff calculations.

12. As a result, pension spending is projected to increase by 6 percent of GDP during 2013–50. These projections already take into account the effects of the 2012 reform, and are based on the identity below:

PEGDF=population65+population1564*pensionerspopulation65+*averagepensionaveragewage*population1564workers*CompensationGDP
article image

Old age and eligibility ratios are as described in the paragraph above.

The replacement rate is assumed to gradually decline to 50 percent as a result of the 2012 reform modifying indexation, lowering accrual rates, prolonging benefit assessment periods and reducing the old-age pensioners’ eligibility ratio. The employment ratio and the compensation share in GDP are kept constant over the projection period near current levels, at 63 and 74 percent, respectively. Under these assumptions, pension spending is projected to increase from 11¼ percent of GDP in 2013 to 12¾ percent in 2030 and 17½ percent in 2050. This represents a gap of some 5½ percent of GDP by 2050 compared to the projection for advanced economies.2

A01ufig7
Sources: Ministry of Finance, United Nations and IMF staff calculations.

Policy reform options

13. This section explores possible parametric pension system reforms that could reduce pension expenditure over the short and medium run. Focus on the expenditure, rather than on contributions, is motivated by two considerations: (i) as noted above, contribution levels are already high by international standards; and (ii) contribution rate hikes would have adverse labor market implications both in the short term, when the economy is exiting the recession, and over the long-term, given that the labor force is already projected to decline due to population aging. Parametric reform options to be analyzed include: (a) discontinuing the pension bonus; (b) reducing the income tax easements enjoyed by pensioners; (c) price indexation of benefits; and (d) closing the gap between statutory and effective retirement ages.

14. Eliminating the pension bonus for pensions above the average could bring immediate permanent fiscal savings of 0.2 percent of GDP. While full elimination of the bonus could yield even higher savings, this would not be desirable, as it would disproportionately affect low income pensioners and compromise the system’s progressivity. As such, the authorities could consider incorporating the annual bonus—as a one-time increase—into the pension of retirees in the lowest income bracket, and eliminating it for those with pensions above the average. This is estimated yield about 0.2 percent of GDP in upfront fiscal savings.

15. Reducing tax exemptions for pensioners, while protecting those with low pensions, could generate up-front fiscal savings of 0.5 percent of GDP, rising to 0.7 percent in the long run.

  • Elimination of the 13.5 percent pension-specific income tax allowance would equalize taxation for labor and pensions and could result in up-front fiscal savings of almost 1 percent of GDP, rising to 1½ percent over the longer-term. To mitigate the welfare impact of this measure and to protect pensioners with a low level of benefits, the elimination of the tax allowance could be coupled with a one-off progressively applied compensatory income supplement, fully compensating pensioners receiving the minimum pension, and gradually tapering off along the pension distribution. For example, effectively eliminating the tax allowance only for pensioners receiving benefits above the mean would translate in fiscal savings of ½ percent of GDP on impact, and ¾ percent in the longer term.

  • The authorities could also consider eliminating the general tax relief for pensioners, which could yield 0.8 percent of GDP in the near-term, reaching just over 1 percent of GDP over the longer term. However, this would introduce a discrepancy with labor taxation; extending it to non-pensioners could address this problem and further boost fiscal savings, but could have potentially detrimental effects on the labor market. As such, this is seen only as a second best option.

A01ufig8

Slovenia: Effective PIT Rates Paid by Pensioners

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Sources: Ministry of Finance and IMF staff calculations.

16. Indexing benefits to prices is estimated to yield savings of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. The long-term baseline forecast is predicated on wage growth in line with productivity, implying wage growth in real terms of some 1½ percent on average. Prices are assumed to grow at 2 percent per year over the long term. Abandoning the wage component of indexation (now weighed at 60 percent) would thus set pension benefits as a share of GDP on a steady downward path.3 The resulting fiscal savings would cumulate gradually over time, amounting to slightly less than ½ percent of GDP by 2020, but rising to 1.1 percent by 2030 and 2 percent by 2050.

17. A number of policy options to raise the effective retirement age by reducing incentives for early retirement could also help to limit long-term spending. While the 2012 reform gradually raises the statutory retirement age to 65, the following measures could significantly affect retirement probabilities prior to age 65:

  • ➢ Revising the long-service-time early retirement provision to limit early retirement at no more than two years prior to the statutory retirement age of 65;

  • ➢ Increasing the early retirement deduction from 0.3 to at least 0.5 percent of pension benefits per month,4 with earlier retirement linked to progressively increasing monthly deductions;

  • ➢ Reducing non-contributory service time recognition (including maternity-, national service -, early insurance – and occupational hazard- related recognition);

  • ➢ Limiting the opportunity to purchase insurance periods to two years,5 and revising it to reflect the actuarially fair price of earlier retirement (present value of foregone contributions as well as that of additional pension payments resulting from longer service time and the longer benefit payment period).

Quantification of the impact of these measures is more difficult, given the need for detailed and disaggregated data at the individual level. Moreover, these measures are designed primarily to work via affecting incentives, and assessing their quantitative impact would require detailed structural modeling that is beyond the scope of this chapter.

18. In sum, the reform options presented above could help reduce pension expenditures both in the short and long run. Specifically, reforms reducing the pension bonus and tax allowance for pensioners can contribute to near-term fiscal consolidation by around 0.6 percent of GDP. Other reforms to further limit benefit indexation cumulate over time, with savings estimated at up to 2 percent of GDP by 2050. In all, a combination of proposed reforms could yield about 2.6 percent of GDP, reducing by about 40 percent the expected increase in pension spending by 2050.6

Table 2.

Pension Reform Options and Their Potential Fiscal Impact

(Percent of GDP)

article image

19. The proposed reforms can help improve the long-run viability of the pension system. Assuming constant pension contribution rates and labor shares over the long run, without reform, the pension system balance (contributions minus benefits) is projected to continue to deteriorate from 2 percent of GDP at end-2013 to 8¼ percent of GDP at end-2050. In net present value terms, this represents a cumulative deterioration of some 40 percent of GDP during 2015–50. In contrast, the combined reforms proposed above can help to reduce the system’s deficit significantly, contributing to a cumulative improvement of just under 15 percent of GDP in net present value terms during 2015–50 relative to the status quo.

A01ufig9

Slovenia: Pension System Financial Balance

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: IMF staff calculations.

20. The proposed reforms can also help improve the overall debt dynamics. Assuming a constant (non-pension) primary expenditure-to-GDP ratio and revenue-to-GDP ratio, in the absence of reforms, the debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to rise to 200 percent by 2050 as a result of rising pension spending and the endogenously determined interest payments. The combination of reforms proposed above can significantly mitigate the increase in public debt, which would reach just over 100 percent of GDP by 2050. Additional, non-pension-related, measures would be needed to ensure that the debt ratio can be placed on a sustainable downward path. The next section will explore some avenues to achieve further consolidation by enhancing the efficiency of health and education spending.

A01ufig10

Slovenia: Public debt

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: IMF staff calculations.

C. Health and Education—Issues and Policy Options

Main issues

21. Spending on health and education constitutes a substantial part of public expenditure. After a sharp decline in 2007, publicly-funded spending on health and education has been rising, reaching almost 12 percent of GDP in 2011. While recent reforms (mainly public wage reductions for education, tightening of hospital budget constraints and cuts in pharmaceutical prices for healthcare) have managed to stem this rising trend, there could be scope for further strengthening the efficiency of health and education systems to help fiscal consolidation.

A01ufig11

Slovenia: Health and Education Expenditure

(2003–11, percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: OECD.

22. While its level is below the OECD average, the efficiency of spending in these sectors lags behind peers (Panel 1). Slovenia’s health outcomes, such as life expectancy, are on par with OECD average. However, compared to countries with a similar performance (Luxembourg or Korea), Slovenia’s spending is relatively higher (by close to 3 percent of GDP). Similarly, in education, Slovenia ranks above the OECD average on PISA scores, but spends relatively more (by about 1 percent of GDP) compared to others with similar outcomes (Czech Republic, Germany, and Japan).

23. A number of sector-specific and budget rigidities account for Slovenia’s relatively lower level of efficiency spending in healthcare and education:

  • Sectoral rigidities: In the health sector, a recent OECD study identifies a number of factors, including: (i) continued reliance on costly inpatient and specialist care, which undermines the strong foundation of primary care in Slovenia; (ii) insufficient partnership with the private sector in ambulatory settings; (iii) a historically generous public-health benefit package; (iv) variable quality of care, not always targeted to rewarding high performance; (v) insufficient care given to ensuring that public funding is focused on treatments of proven clinical and cost effectiveness. In education, low efficiency is largely related to a rigid education system despite a declining student population. This resulted in low pupil-teacher ratios in pre-primary and lower-secondary education, which are currently significantly below OECD average. In addition, population dynamics have differed widely across geographical areas, while education services did not adjust to this, with class size ranging from 4.5 to 24.2 pupils, around 40 percent of schools having less than 15 students per class, and around 56 percent of schools having less than 200 pupils.

  • Budgetary rigidities: Indirect budget users in both health and education (institutional and legal structures spending that are beyond direct government funding control) have grown in number and are increasingly fragmented.7 Moreover, here is a high degree of dispersion of their funding sources, with some relying on the state budget transfers and others on a mix of state and own resources. As a result, oversight and control on their spending is weak, hampering transparency, prioritization, and efficiency. In the health sector, he quasi-autonomous legal status of hospitals constrains the government’s centralized efforts to rationalize costs. For example, the costs of primary health clinics established by local governments are difficult for the central government to control, even though it is obliged to cover their operating expenses, including wages. In education, local governments establish primary schools, while the federal government finances a significant share of their operational and employment costs. Since these facilities serve multiple community functions, there might be resistance from local governments to rationalize excess facilities despite high overhead costs.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Health and Education: Output Expenditure

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: Education at a glance, 2013, OECD Health at a Glance, 2013.

Analysis

24. A frontier analysis is used to assess the efficiency of Slovenia’s spending on health and education. This is based on the OECD’s Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) methodology (Box 2). The DEA calculates an efficiency benchmark by estimating the “best practice frontier” that includes countries which provide the optimal combination of inputs and outputs. It then summarizes the distance from the efficiency frontier by an efficiency score, which is weighted by the public sector’s share in the sector in question. This is then used to estimate the fiscal savings that can be generated by improving efficiency to the levels of best-performing peers.

25. The efficiency score of the Slovenian healthcare system is below best practice. For the most recent period available (2010–12), it is estimated at about 52 percent relative to best practice (including countries such as Chile, Israel, Italy, and Japan). Interestingly, Slovenia’s efficiency score appears to have increased substantially in 2010–12 compared to the pre-crisis period, when the score was broadly stable at around 32 percent. With the trend improvement in life expectancy close to historical norms, this efficiency improvement almost fully reflects the sharp expenditure compression undertaken as part of fiscal consolidation, including control of costs of pharmaceuticals, low employment growth in the sector, introduction of new technologies, and partly shifting the financing of health care needs from public to private complementary health insurance.

A01ufig12

26. This suggests that fiscal savings in the health sector of some 2 percent of GDP could be achieved by closing half of the distance to the efficiency frontier. If Slovenia had a similar capacity to convert inputs into health outcomes as the countries on the efficiency frontier, it could cut its health spending in half and still achieve comparable outcomes. The results are robust to different indicators. For example, if the Healthy Life Years Indicator is used instead of life expectancy, the estimated score is 0.55 and close to the result above, and the gap to the frontier is 45 percentage points, suggesting similar savings by closing half of the efficiency gap. Moreover, to the extent that some of the recent efficiency gains prove to be only temporary, the fiscal savings from moving toward the frontier could be larger; conversely, if the trend improvement observed in 2010–12 has continued in 2013–14 and proves permanent, the savings would be correspondingly lower.

A01ufig13

27. Similarly, the education efficiency gap is found to be significant. During 2010–12, Slovenia’s efficiency score is estimated at about 53 percent compared to best practice (defined by such countries as Estonia, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, and Poland). The efficiency of Slovenia’s educational system improved markedly in the 2010–12 period, with the efficiency score rising by about 6 percentage points from an average level of about 47 percent up to 2009. While in part reflecting an improvement in educational attainment in the latter period, this efficiency improvement was also primarily related to the ongoing fiscal consolidation.

28. Closing half of the education efficiency gap could yield savings of around 1½ percent of GDP. This implies that the same literacy level could be reached with about half of the current education spending, implying potential fiscal savings of around 1.4 percent of GDP. As with healthcare, the potential fiscal savings through improved education spending efficiency could be larger if some of the recent gains prove only temporary, or lower if the gains are sustained and higher in 2013–14.

A01ufig14

Policy reform options

29. To achieve efficiency gains, comprehensive healthcare reforms will be needed over the medium term. In recent years, and in the context of broader fiscal consolidation efforts, there has been noteworthy effort to bring healthcare costs under control – as indeed captured by the improvement in the efficiency indicators discussed above. Cost control efforts have included some hardening of budget constraints, control of costs of pharmaceuticals, low employment and wage growth in the sector, and introduction of new technologies; partly shifting the financing of health care needs from public to private complementary health insurance may also have helped. While these policy measures could translate in continued efficiency gains in coming years, some of them could also be subject to reversal. In any event, with the estimated efficiency gap still considerable, there is scope for further reforms of a more structural nature. Several options can be considered, as recommended by a recent OECD study:8

  • A health technology assessment is needed to analyze the extent to which the healthcare system reflects the best clinical practices (i.e. inpatient versus ambulatory care and the supply of general practitioners), and whether the government purchases of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are cost-effective. On this basis, measures would need to be taken to improve practices and reduce costs.

  • Reforming health financing could also bring sizeable savings. The recent broadening of the contribution of compulsory health insurance to working students was an important step. Further reform options include aligning the health insurance contribution of pensioners with the standard contribution of employees and allowing for an increase in premiums of complementary health insurance with the age of participants.

  • Other reform areas could include further developing options for homecare, and allowing for a system of vouchers.

30. Efficiency gains in the education sector can be achieved though adjustments to demographic trends and improved funding for tertiary education. As in the case of healthcare, recent cost-cutting measures may not prove sustainable, especially if the recent tight public-wage policy (directly impacting a major component of the sector’s cost structure) were to be loosened in the coming years. In this context, reforms of a more structural nature would be called for. Specifically:

  • There is scope to further improve efficiency by raising pupil-teacher ratios in pre-primary and lower-secondary education, including by increasing class size (through minimum class size, especially for urban zones).

  • Spending efficiency can be achieved through optimization of the school network (by addressing the issue of overcapacity of schools that are not geographically isolated) and rationalization of teacher workloads.

  • Finally, to help promote access and equity in tertiary education and boost spending efficiency, the introduction of universal tuition fees along with means-tested grants and loans with income-contingent repayments would help promote access and equity in tertiary education while minimizing costs.

31. Overcoming rigidities in the budgetary process for both healthcare and education is also important for achieving efficiency gains. Bringing the oversight and control over indirect health and education spending users in line with the degree of control exercised on direct spending users would improve expenditure control and could thus usefully support efforts to strengthen expenditure efficiency in these sectors. A number of measures could be considered, as follows:

  • Merge financial management functions across smaller indirect budget entities (IBE) or make more and better use of shared financial services (accounting and reporting, internal control and audit).

  • Increase the involvement of the central government in the preparation of the financial plans by indirect budget entities. Supervising ministries should be able to review financial plans of indirect budget entities before approvals by their governing/management board.

  • Standardize and unify budget execution systems across IBE. This can be achieved for instance through the installation of a unique IT system for budget execution, payment, accounting and reporting system.

32. Together with pension reform, reforms in health and education can help place the public debt ratio on a sustainable downward path. Assuming that reforms in health and education can begin to have an impact on the sectors’ finances with a 2-year lag, and that this impact is felt only gradually over an 8-year window, even if half of the fiscal savings estimated above (1 ¾ percent of GDP) could be achieved, reforms can still make a powerful contribution to counteracting the effects on population aging. Together with pension reforms, they would place the debt ratio on a firmly declining path through 2040, and allow it to broadly stabilize around 40 percent by 2050.

A01ufig15

Slovenia: Public Debt

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: IMF staff calculations.

D. Concluding Remarks

33. This paper assessed policy options to generate fiscal savings in social spending. The paper’s motivations are threefold. First, with the substantial deterioration of public finances through the crisis, the authorities need to undertake additional consolidation efforts to put the public finances on a sustainable path. Second, population aging is expected to put significant pressure on the pension system over the long run. Third, there is evidence of inefficiencies in both healthcare and education spending.

34. The paper finds that significant fiscal savings could be achieved by reforming the pension, health, and education systems. Regarding pensions, reforms to the pension bonus and the tax treatment of pension benefits can generate up-front savings, and can thus support near-term consolidation, while the fiscal impact of reforms to benefit indexation and policies to raise the effective retirement age can help address longer-term challenges to pension finances. In the areas of healthcare and education, reforms addressing sector-specific structural rigidities as well as budgetary controls could help close the efficiency gap with the best practice frontier and generate sizeable long-term savings. Together, these reforms can help place public debt on a sustainable downward path.

35. The quantitative results presented in this section should be interpreted with caution. With regard to pensions, they depend on assumptions and on the precise specification of reforms, which needs to take into account the protection of low income pensions. The results also do not take into account the potential behavioral responses to these reforms, which could be significant. Regarding healthcare and education, life expectancy and PISA scores used in the analysis may capture the output of these sectors only imperfectly. Use of alternative indicators would greatly strengthen the degree of confidence in assessing efficiency, but scarcity of comparable data for a sufficiently large set of countries is an important limitation.

36. The paper is not exhaustive, suggesting future avenues of research. For example, the paper does not include a welfare assessment of pension reform: such an analysis would be important, given the intertemporal nature of the effects in question, with issues of intergenerational equity featuring prominently. Moreover, the paper adopted an explicitly partial-equilibrium approach, and thus did not attempt to endogenize the important interactions between pension reform and labor market dynamics, which could affect the results. On the menu of policy options, it does not consider structural and/or paradigmatic pension reforms, such as indexing the statutory retirement age to life expectancy so as to keep life expectancy at retirement constant, reducing the role of the state in providing old age income replacement, and relying more on fully funded, privately managed pension products. In order to continue protecting the elderly against poverty in a fiscally prudent manner, the option of relying on non-contributory targeted social pensions could also be investigated, as part of Slovenia’s long-term pension policy. As to healthcare, policy reforms did not explicitly consider the impact of aging on the longer-term dynamics of health spending. The literature in this area has established that these effects could be significant, and incorporating this dimension in the analysis would only strengthen the urgency of efficiency-enhancing reforms in this sector.

Slovenia’s Pension System: Institutional Features

Slovenia has a mandatory, pay-as-you-go financed, contributory defined benefit public pension system. The system pays old age, disability and survivor pensions as primary benefits. Primary benefits may be supplemented by secondary pensions, such as assistance and attendance supplements and supplementary survivor benefits. Other benefits include various cash and in-kind benefits designed to assist people with disabilities and other grants. In addition to the mandatory defined benefit scheme—Compulsory Pension and Disability Insurance (CPDI)—the system includes Compulsory (Occupational) Supplementary Pension Insurance (CSPI) for people performing hazardous or strenuous work, and Voluntary Supplementary Pension and Insurance.

Eligibility for old age pensions is conditional on age and contribution history. As of 2013, the normal, full-entitlement retirement age was 63 for men and 61 years for women, by which ages individuals must have accrued at least 20 years of insurance periods. Early retirement is permissible no sooner than 5 years before reaching the normal retirement age, and results in a 0.3 percent pension deduction per month of early retirement. However, these deductions do not apply to people who accrue 40 years of service without purchasing additional insurance periods, and further retirement age easements are available to various groups (mothers, those in compulsory national service, and those who became contributors at before turning 18).

Pension benefits reflect the beneficiary’s past wage history. As of 2013, CPDI benefits were assessed on the basis of the average net wage of the best consecutive 19 years of insurance since 1970, subject to a floor and a ceiling—respectively at 76.5 percent and 306 percent of the previous year’s average economy-wide wage. The application of the floor and the ceiling compresses the benefit distribution compared to earnings and also introduces a non-contributory minimum pension (at 19.9 percent of the average wage in the year preceding retirement). Benefits are regularly indexed to a 60/40 weighted composite of gross wage growth and the consumer price index, subject to a minimum of half the price index.

The system achieves full coverage: 100 percent and 90 percent old age pension coverage is reached by age 64 among men and women, respectively. Since the statutory retirement age is below 65 and early retirement is available, the eligibility ratio (old age pensioners as a percentage of people aged 65 and above) is higher: in 2013 it was 120%. It is expected that age-specific eligibility ratios will decline as a result of retirement age increases and stricter early retirement rules—at the same time, it is also assumed that coverage will remain full for people older than the statutory retirement age.

Compliance rates have been declining. The service time among new retirees between 2010 and 2013 is 38 years and 36 years, on average, for men and women, respectively. Compliance rates, as measured by age-specific coverage ratios among active age people, have been gradually declining since 2010. This trend exposes the pension system to risks: its contribution revenues would start to decline well before its expenditures begin to contract, driving the system’s deficit up; and declining compliance rates among prime age individuals may compromise the system’s ability to provide an adequate pension.

Estimating Efficiency Gaps: The DEA Methodology

A frontier analysis is used to assess the efficiency of Slovenia’s health and education sectors. The methodology applied is the Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA).1 The DEA traces a “best practice frontier”, populated by countries that provide the optimal combination of inputs and outputs. This frontier is constructed using linear programming techniques from the most efficient observations, which then “envelop” the less efficient ones (Sutherland and others 2007). Efficiency gains are derived by measuring the distance from the frontier and expressing it as a ratio of an observation’s distance from the efficiency frontier to the distance from the axis. These gains can be defined as the amount by which input could be reduced while holding constant the level of output (input inefficiency) or as the amount by which output could be increased while holding constant the level of input (output orientation). The efficiency score ranges from 0 to 1, and measures the conversion rate of input into output. Implicitly, the efficiency gains determine the size of potential savings.

A01ufig16

Slovenia: DEA Efficiency Frontier

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 042; 10.5089/9781484310601.002.A001

Source: IMF staff calculations.

For each type of expenditure, Slovenia’s conversion rate is then compared to that of other OECD countries. For the purpose of this analysis, life expectancy and PISA scores are considered as the socially valuable outcomes for health (i.e., longer life as a result of a good healthcare system) and education (i.e., literacy as a product of good schools), respectively. The conversion rate is applied to both public and private systems because of the lack of disaggregated data. To evaluate possible fiscal gains, we simply weight the size of the savings by the share the public sector in the expenditure. Latest figures from the OECD suggest that general government account for almost 80 percent in the education and health sectors. Moreover, it should be noted that the analysis focused on outcomes rather than output of education or health. For instance knowledge acquisition is a better indicator of the performance of the education system than output variables such as enrollment rate. Moreover, because of the nature of the technique used, variables are selected to their comparability across countries.

1 The DEA technique is more appropriate for homogeneous sample such OECD countries. Indeed, as a relative measure of efficiency, DEA is highly sensitive to sample selection and measurement errors in terms of quality of production factors. Outliers can exert a large effect on the efficiency scores and shape of the frontier.

References

1

Prepared by Csaba Feher, Ioannis Halikias, and Jules Tapsoba.

3

Under our assumptions and the current indexation formula, the expected pension growth over the long run is estimated at 0.4*2% + 0.6*3.5% = 2.9 percentage points. Full price indexation would thus result, over the long run, in pension growth equal to inflation (2 percent).

4

In OECD countries, except Germany, early retirement deductions range between 0.4-0.6 percent per month.

5

Workers can pay up to two years’ worth of extra contributions at the time of retirement, effectively purchasing service time ex-post.

6

The combined effect takes into account the impact on tax revenue of lower pension benefits relative to the baseline (due to the reduction in the bonus and the changed indexation formula); hence, the combined impact of the three reforms is somewhat smaller than the sum of their individual impact.

Republic of Slovenia: Selected Issues Paper
Author: International Monetary Fund. European Dept.