China has exploded onto the world economy over the past few decades and is undergoing rapid transformation toward relatively more services. The health sector is an important part of this transition. This article provides a historical account of the development of health care in China since 1949. It also focuses on health insurance and macroeconomic structural adjustment to less saving and more consumption. In particular, the question of how health insurance impacts precautionary savings is considered. Multivariate analysis using data from 1990 to 2012 is employed. The household savings rate is the dependent variable in 3 models segmented for rural and urban populations. Independent variables include out-of-pocket health expenditures, health insurance payouts, housing expenditure, education expenditure, and consumption as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). Out-of-pocket health expenditures were positively correlated with household savings rates. But health insurance remains weak, and increased payouts by health insurers have not been associated with lower levels of household savings so far. Housing was positively correlated, whereas education had a negative association with savings rates. This latter finding was unexpected. Perhaps education is perceived as investment and a substitute for savings. China’s shift toward a more service-oriented economy includes growing dependence on the health sector. Better health insurance is an important part of this evolution. The organization and finance of health care is integrally linked with macroeconomic policy in an environment constrained by prevailing institutional convention. Problems of agency relationships, professional hegemony, and special interest politics feature prominently, as they do elsewhere. China also has a dual approach to medicine relying heavily on providers of traditional Chinese medicine. Both of these segments will take part in China’s evolution, adding another layer of complexity to policy.
Hilsenrath, P. E.
Organization and Finance of China's Health Sector: Historical Antecedents for Macroeconomic Structural Adjustment.
Inquiry, 53(1), 1–8.