Microinsurance and Rural Health
- Syed Abdul HamidSyed Abdul HamidInstitute of Health Economics, University of Dhaka
Health microinsurance (HMI) has been used around the globe since the early 1990s for financial risk protection against health shocks in poverty-stricken rural populations in low-income countries. However, there is much debate in the literature on its impact on financial risk protection. There is also no clear answer to the critical policy question about whether HMI is a viable route to provide healthcare to the people of the informal economy, especially in the rural areas. Findings show that HMI schemes are concentrated widely in the low-income countries, especially in South Asia (about 43%) and East Africa (about 25.4%). India accounts for 30% of HMI schemes. Bangladesh and Kenya also possess a good number of schemes. There is some evidence that HMI increases access to healthcare or utilization of healthcare. One set of the literature shows that HMI provides financial protection against the costs of illness to its enrollees by reducing out-of-pocket payments and/or catastrophic spending. On the contrary, a large body of literature with strong methodological rigor shows that HMI fails to provide financial protection against health shocks to its clients. Some of the studies in the latter group rather find that HMI contributes to the decline of financial risk protection. These findings seem to be logical as there is a high copayment and a lack of continuum of care in most cases. The findings also show that scale and dependence on subsidy are the major concerns. Low enrollment and low renewal are common concerns of the voluntary HMI schemes in South Asian countries. In addition, the declining trend of donor subsidies makes the HMI schemes supported by external donors more vulnerable. These challenges and constraints restrict the scale and profitability of HMI initiatives, especially those that are voluntary. Consequently, the existing organizations may cease HMI activities.
Overall, although HMI can increase access to healthcare, it fails to provide financial risk protection against health shocks. The existing HMI practices in South Asia, especially in the HMIs owned by nongovernmental organizations and microfinance institutions, are not a viable route to provide healthcare to the rural population of the informal economy. However, HMI schemes may play some supportive role in implementation of a nationalized scheme, if there is one. There is also concern about the institutional viability of the HMI organizations (e.g., ownership and management efficiency). Future research may address this issue.