Objectives: We estimated out-of-pocket health care spending and out-of-pocket spending burden ratio employing household equivalent income in the Republic of Korea. We examined variations in out-of-pocket spending, estimated out-of-pocket spending burden ratio employing household equivalent income, and identified factors associated with out-of-pocket spending.
Methods: We used the 1998 Korean National Health and Nutrition Survey, a nationally representative survey of 39,060 individuals. Our analyses examined out-of-pocket spending, out-of-pocket spending burden ratio, and health care use by socioeconomic status, insurance type, health care facility type, and chronic condition after we controlled for sociodemographic variables.
Results: The lowest income quintile spent 12.5% of their total income out-of-pocket on medical expenditures, which was 6 times that of the highest income quintile (2%). Among those with 3 or more chronic conditions, low-income Koreans had the highest out-of-pocket spending burden ratio (20%), which was 5 times the spending burden among high-income Koreans (4%). In multivariate analyses, the number of chronic conditions, insurance type, health care use, and health care facility type were associated with out-of-pocket spending.
Conclusions: Out-of-pocket spending in Korea is regressive, because lower-income groups pay disproportionately more of their income compared with higher-income groups. Low-income individuals with multiple chronic conditions are particularly vulnerable.