Catastrophic health expenditure and its association with socioeconomic status in China: evidence from the 2011-2018 China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study

Xi Li, Itismita Mohanty, Tiemin Zhai, Peipei Chai, Theo Niyonsenga

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    Abstract

    BACKGROUND: An increase in healthcare utilization in response to universal health coverage may leave massive economic burden on individuals and households. Identifying catastrophic health expenditure helps us understand such burden. This study aims to examine the incidence of catastrophic health expenditure at various thresholds, explore its trend over years, and investigate whether it varies across socioeconomic status (SES).

    METHODS: Data used in this study were from four waves of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS): 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2018. SES was measured by annual per-capita household expenditure, which was then divided into quintiles (Quintile 1 (Q1): the poorest - Quintile 5 (Q5): the wealthiest). Catastrophic health expenditure was measured at both a fixed threshold (40%) and a set of variable thresholds, where the thresholds for other quintiles were estimated by multiplying 40% by the ratio of average food expenditure in certain quintile to that in the index quintile. Multilevel mixed-effects logistic regression models were used to analyze the determinants of catastrophic health expenditure at various thresholds.

    RESULTS: A total of 6,953 households were included in our study. The incidence of catastrophic health expenditure varied across the thresholds set. At a fixed threshold, 10.90%, 9.46%, 13.23%, or 24.75% of households incurred catastrophic health expenditure in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2018, respectively, which were generally lower than those at variable thresholds. Catastrophic health expenditure often decreased from 2011 to 2013, and an increasing trend occurred afterwards. Compared to households in Q5, those in lower quintiles were more likely to suffer catastrophic health expenditure, irrespective of the thresholds set. Similarly, having chronic diseases and healthcare utilization increased the odds of catastrophic health expenditure.

    CONCLUSIONS: The financial protection against catastrophic health expenditure shocks remains a challenge in China, especially for the low-SES and those with chronic diseases. Concerted efforts are needed to further expand health insurance coverage across breadth, depth, and height, optimize health financing mechanism, redesign cost-sharing arrangements and provider payment methods, and develop more efficient expenditure control strategies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number194
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
    Volume22
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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