Incentives in China's Healthcare Delivery System

Working Paper

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Stanford Center for International Development, Vol. Working paper #373

October 2008

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The economic approach of comparative and historical institutional analysis (Aoki 2001, Greif 2006) has virtually never been used in theoretical studies of healthcare incentives. This paper seeks to help fill this gap by exploring the explanatory power of such an approach for understanding incentives in China’s healthcare delivery system. It focuses on positive analysis of why China’s health system incentives evolved the way they did. The first section analyzes the institution of physician dispensing (MDD) and reforms toward separation of prescribing from dispensing (SPD), in historical and comparative perspective. It shows, for example, how MDD was a self-reinforcing institution; the longer a society remains under MDD, the higher the associated costs of supplier-induced demand can be before implementing SPD becomes the efficient self-enforcing social institution. Rapid technological change and adoption of universal coverage are likely to trigger SPD reforms. The second section seeks to explain the pattern and impact of price regulation and hospital payment reforms in contemporary China, which also reflect the legacy of MDD.

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