Background: Price regulation is a common constraint in Chinese hospitals. Based on a policy experiment conducted in China on the price deregulation of private nonprofit hospitals, this study empirically examines the impact of medical service price regulation on the pricing of medical services by hospitals.
Methods: Using the claim data of insured inpatients residing in a major Chinese city for the period 2010–2015, this study constructs a DID (difference-in-differences) model to compare the impact of price deregulation on medical expenditure and expenditure structure between public and private nonprofit hospitals.
Results: The empirical results based on micro data reveal that, price deregulated significantly increased the total expenditure per inpatient visit by 10.5%. In the itemized expenditure, the diagnostic test and drug expenditure per inpatient visit of private nonprofit hospitals decreased significantly, whereas the physician service expenditure per inpatient visit increased significantly. For expenditure structure, the proportions of drug expenditure and diagnostic test expenditure per inpatient visit significantly decreased by 5.7% and 3.1%, respectively.
Conclusions: Under price regulation, medical service prices generally become lower than their costs. Therefore, after price deregulation, private nonprofit hospitals increase medical service prices above their cost and achieve the service premium by providing high-quality medical services and a comfortable medical environment. Further, although price deregulation causes patient expenditure to increase to a certain level, it optimizes the expenditure structure, as well.