Indonesia’s cash transfer programs are valuable, Stanford health fellow finds

worldbank indonesia nurse training 2011 Nursing students are trained in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, part of the World Bank's Health Professional Education Quality Project.

Nearly forty-four percent of Indonesia’s population is living on less than $2 a day, making it near impossible for some to seek proper health treatment. One way to improve this situation is through Indonesia’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs, Margaret Triyana says.

The CCT program, first piloted by the World Bank in 2007 and expanded from 2009–10, encourages Indonesia’s most destitute to pursue health-seeking behaviors by reducing barriers to health care through cash incentives. Payment is given for receiving treatments at a local clinic. Essentially, the poor are reimbursed simply for “showing up” for health services.

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Triyana, a Jakarta native and postdoctoral fellow in the Asia Health Policy Program, has been in residence at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies studying the effects of the CCT program on Indonesia’s poor. She has been evaluating the household CCT program’s two-year implementation, focusing on the maternal and child health initiatives.

She plans to produce multiple papers that focus on issues related to CCT interventions and its impact on mothers and children. Triyana will continue this research after leaving Shorenstein APARC this July, accepting an academic teaching position at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. 

Recently, Triyana discussed her research with Shorenstein APARC. 

What types of health initiatives does the CCT program sponsor, and for whom?

The CCT program targets Indonesia’s most poverty-stricken by selecting approximately the bottom 30 percent of the poorest households, with preference toward households with pregnant women or school-aged children. Eligibility depends on socioeconomic factors per district such as expenditure, education and asset ownership. The program stretches the rural-urban divide, covering people in and off Java (this is the main island where 60 percent of the population resides). Many initiatives in the household CCT program are focused on child and maternal health. For mothers, they include a series of prenatal care visits, an iron tablet prescription, childbirth assistance and postnatal care. For children, they cover vaccinations, monthly height and weight measurements at the clinic and vitamin A pills. Overall the CCT program is a combination of poverty reduction and human capital investments, attempting to induce good behavior that instills long-term health in low resource settings.

Who is the typical primary care provider in Indonesia?

The primary care provider is often a midwife. This is because Indonesia doesn’t have enough trained doctors to support the growing demand. Clinics operate at the sub-district level, which comprise of 10-15 villages each. Every village is assigned one midwife. Midwives can perform most procedures just short of surgery. For example, midwives offer typical delivery services but refer patients to a district-level hospital for a Caesarean section. This system, for the most part, functions well, but midwives do have an expanded scope of care that can be unsettling. Children have their cuts taken care of by midwives; adults can get antibiotics through them. This diffused system is perhaps more efficient, but it can call into question the legitimacy of their authority. Midwives receive only three years of training for their certification. This is something the Indonesian government intends to inspect and will likely restructure.

What behavior changes do you see as a result of the CCT program?

My initial findings show there is increased utilization of health care programs. The CCT program incentivizes certain behaviors – attending the clinic for a test or retrieving medication – which then, in theory, leads to better health. “Showing up” doesn’t automatically correlate with improved health, but if we think about the population at hand, it would in most cases. People who weren’t using health services before now are. Everyone that was offered the program signed up. Monthly attendance to CCT-linked programs is reported at a rate of 85 percent. In particular to maternal health, I noted a 10 percent increase in delivery fees. This trend follows what we would expect to see – because of increased utilization, there is a natural rise in price for the service. On the demand-side, I found a 40 percent increase in the use of midwives, and a rise in fees paid to providers for maternal and child services. These factors indicate with a high level of certainty that the CCT program lowers barriers to health care. 

Since health is effectively its own market, will increased demand for services cause a rise in price?

Yes, health care is its own market so the supply-demand relationship is relevant. My research looks at the local market because it depends upon the price being offered at the local clinic. Indonesia’s health care system is a public-private mixture, therefore public fees are regulated while private fees are less so. Indonesia now offers universal care, but people can pay a few for services beyond basic coverage. I saw a change in the private domain in terms of demand for services. The “demand shock” caused a bit of a higher price for services. It costs about $80 to meet all of the program requirements. Payment to midwives increased, while a slight decrease occurred for traditional birth attendants. I find no significant change in birth outcomes, and the quality provided by midwives does not appear to be affected by the program. These outcomes are exactly what we’d expect to see; it is consistent with the puzzle in the literature and economics, showing more women and children in the CCT program are seeking care from health care providers, but no change in health outcomes.

Can we expect increased utilization of health services in the long-run?

I anticipate there will be long-term increased utilization. The CCT program seeks to create habit formation by focusing on youth and pregnant mothers. For example, we can see this when expectant mothers attended the clinic for prenatal care, delivery assistance and postnatal care. With cost and travel barriers eliminated or reduced, participants should find it easier to initially come and then return. I did see repeat visits in my research as a positive outcome of the CCT program. A technique used to encourage commitment is a public education program as part of the program. Participants get a group briefing on how the program works, so that they are fully introduced to the incentives and guarantees of the program. 

Does Indonesia plan to extend this into a national program?

Yes, the CCT program is planned to go national later this year. The research shows that the benchmark of high attendance was met, program participants did “show up.” Next steps are to analyze health outcomes in maternal and child health, and then look at policy implications. Indeed, the Indonesian government is seeking ways to better target and deliver health services; it will be interesting to see the long-term effects of this program.