Background: In 2002, the Chinese government launched a new rural health financing policy to provide health insurance (New Cooperative Medical Scheme, NCMS) for its rural population. NCMS, jointly financed by governments and individual households, aims to protect households from impoverishment due to catastrophic health expenditure. In 2011, NCMS covered more than 96% of the rural population. We have systematically searched and reviewed available evidence to estimate the effects of NCMS on health outcomes and on alleviating catastrophic health expenditure.
Methods: PubMed, Web of Science with Conference Proceedings, ProQuest Digital Dissertations, CMCI, CNKI, and VIP were searched. We also obtained literature from colleague communications. Quasi-experimental studies regarding the effect of NCMS on health outcomes and catastrophic health expenditure were included. Two independent reviewers screened the literature, extracted the data, and assessed the study quality.
Results: Fifteen studies out of the 6123 studies in the literature fulfilled criteria and were included in this review. Twelve studies identified the relationship between NCMS and health outcomes, among which six studies measured sickness or injury in the past four weeks, four measured sickness or injury in the past two weeks, and five measured self-reported health status. Four studies focused on the relationship between NCMS and alleviating catastrophic health expenditure. However, the results from these studies were in conflict: individual studies indicated that NCMS had positive, negative, or no effect on health outcomes and/or the incidence of catastrophic health payments, respectively.
Conclusions: We still have no clear evidence that NCMS improves the health outcomes and decreases the alleviating catastrophic health expenditure of the China's rural population. In addition, the heterogeneity among individual studies reminds us that provider payment method reforms, benefit package and information systems around NCMS should be improved in the future.