Mortality declines in rural China yet no clear link to universal health insurance

luoding china Farmers dry star anise seeds in a country yard in Tanbin Township, China, Nov. 26, 2005.

Rural areas of China have made remarkable progress in reducing adult mortality within the past 15 years yet broadened health insurance was not a casual factor in that decline, according to a new study by an international research team that includes Asia Health Policy Program Director Karen Eggleston.

The New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a government-subsidized insurance program that began in 2002-03, expanded to cover all of rural China within a decade. Examining NCMS and cause-specific mortality data for a sample of 72 counties between 2004 and 2012, the researchers found that there were no significant effects of health insurance expansion on increased life expectancy.

The study, published in the September issue of Health Affairs, showed results consistent with previous studies that also did not find a correlation between insurance and survival, although much research confirms NCMS increased access to healthcare, including preventive services, and shielded families from high health expenditures.

Commenting on the study, Eggleston said population health policies remain central to China’s efforts to increase life expectancy and to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas.

Eggleston also noted that multiple factors beyond the availability of health care determine how long people live, and anticipates the research team will continue to explore the impacts of NCMS by extending the study to look at infants and youth.

Read the study (may require subscription) and view a related article on the Stanford Scope blog.