Rural-to-urban migration and its implication for new cooperative medical scheme coverage and utilization in China

BMC Public Health. 2011 Jun 30;11:520. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-520.


Background: China has been experiencing the largest rural to urban migration in history. Rural-to-urban migrants are those who leave their hometown for another place in order to work or live without changing their hukou status, which is a household registration system in China, categorizing people as either rural residents or urban residents. Rural-to-urban migrants typically find better job opportunities in destination cities, and these pay higher salaries than available in their home regions. This has served to improve the enrollment rates in the New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) of rural families, protecting households from falling into poverty due to diseases. However, current regulations stipulate that people who are registered in China's rural hukou can only participate in their local NCMS, which in turn poses barriers when migrants seek medical services in the health facilities of their destination cities. To examine this issue in greater depth, this study examined the associations between migration, economic status of rural households, and NCMS enrollment rate, as well as NCMS utilization of rural-to-urban migrants.

Methods: A multistage cluster sampling procedure was adopted. Our sample included 9,097 households and 36,720 individuals. Chi-square test and T-test were used to examine differences between the two populations of migrants and non-migrants based on age, gender, marriage status, and highest level of education. Ordinal logistic regression was used to examine the association between migration and household economic status. Binary logistic regression was used to examine the associations between household economic status, migration and enrollment in the NCMS.

Results: Migration was positively associated with improved household economic status. In households with no migrants, only 11.3% of the population was in the richest quintile, whereas the percentage was more than doubled in households with family members who migrated in 2006. Among those using in-patient medical services, 54.3% of migrants in comparison with 17.5% of non-migrants used out-of-county hospitals, many of which were not designated hospitals (Designated hospitals refer to hospitals where, if people use in patient health care, could receive reimbursement from the NCMS.); and 55.2% of migrants in comparison with 24.6% of non-migrants, who had the NCMS in 2006, received no reimbursement from the NCMS. The three main reasons of not receiving reimbursement were: staying in a hospital not designated by the NCMS, lack of knowledge of NCMS policies, and encountering difficulties obtaining reimbursement.

Conclusion: Migrants to urban centers improve the economic status of their rural household economic of origin. However, obtaining reimbursement under the current NCMS for the cost of hospital services provided by undesignated providers in urban centers is limited. Addressing this challenge is an emerging policy priority.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires