The Chinese health care system has gone through two major cycles of reform since the 1980s. This study aims to comprehensively track the trends in the occurrence of catastrophic health payment and its inequality in the past 15 years, which may help better understand the influence of health system reforms on catastrophic health payment and its inequality.
The study employed the subset of data from China Health and Nutrition Survey conducted from 1991 to 2015. Concentration index and decomposition analysis were used to measure the magnitude of income-related inequality in catastrophic health payment and decompose it into determinants respectively.
The incidence of catastrophic health expenditure in China increased from 3.10% in 1993 to 8.90% in 2004, and still maintained at a high level in the following years. The incidence gap of catastrophic health payment between the richest and poorest became increasingly wider over year. Moreover, the adjusted concentration indexes were all negative in each year, decreasing from -0.202 in 1991 to -0.613 in 2015. The basic medical insurance didn’t decrease the incidence of catastrophic health payment and showed the second largest contribution on the inequality in catastrophic health payment before 2004. However, this contribution began to decline after 2006.
After the New Health Care Reform, although the Chinese government has taken many measures to protect poor households from catastrophic health payment, the incidence gap between the rich and poor has widened. China has nearly achieved universal coverage in recent years, however, the basic medical insurance in China was not enough to protect households from catastrophic health payment. Our study suggests that improving the generosity of existing basic medical insurance, and reforming the medical insurance payment system would be helpful to reduce the incidence of catastrophic health payment. The use of big data tools and techniques to effectively screen the poor households, and strengthening the social medical aid system would be helpful to decrease the pro-rich inequality in catastrophic health payment.