Background In 2003, the New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) was introduced in China to re-establish health insurance for the country’s vast rural population. In addition, the coverage of NCMS has been expanding after the new health care reform launched in 2009. This study aims to examine whether the NCMS and its recent expansion have reached the goal of reducing the risk and inequality of catastrophic health spending for rural residents in China. Methods We conducted a face-to-face household survey in three counties of the Shandong province in 2009 and 2012. Using this unique panel data, we examined the changes in the incidence and intensity of catastrophic health expenditures (CHEs) before and after NCMS reimbursement. We used concentration index (CI) and decomposition method to study the changes in inequality in CHEs. Results We found that NCMS reimbursement played a role of reducing both the incidence and intensity of CHEs, and that this impact was stronger after the new health care reform was launched. After reimbursement, the concentration indices for CHEs were 0.073 and 0.021 in 2009 and 2012, indicating that the rich had a greater tendency to incur CHEs and there existed less inequality in the incidence of CHEs after reimbursement in 2012 compared with 2009. The decomposition analysis results suggested that changes in CHE inequality between 2009 and 2012 were attributed to changes in economic status and household size rather than reimbursement levels. Conclusions Our results indicated that inequality was shrinking from 2009 to 2012, which could be a result of fewer rich people having CHEs in 2012 compared with 2009. The impact of NCMS in alleviating the financial burden of rural residents was still limited, especially among the poor. Health care reform policies in China that aim to reduce CHEs must continue to place an emphasis on improving reimbursement, cost containment, and reducing income inequalities.
This item's license is: Attribution 4.0 International