A Tale of Two Systems: The Impact of Universal Health Coverage on Financial Risk Protection in Taiwan and South Korea



Rachel Jui-fen Lu, Stanford University

Date and Time

May 17, 2016 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM May 16.


Okimoto Conference Room, Encina Hall 3rd Floor, East Wing


One of the key objectives of introducing a compulsory health insurance is to provide citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, with financial risk protection against unexpected catastrophic expenditures in the face of illness.  South Korea and Taiwan achieved universal health coverage (UHC) through mandatory social insurance schemes in 1989 and 1995, respectively.  Despite both countries' efforts to achieve the goal of financial risk protection for more than two decades, past research has demonstrated that household out-of-pocket (OOP) payment still accounts for more than one-third of total health expenditures in both countries.  When OOP payment represents a significant share of financial sources for health care, one should be particularly concerned about the distribution of such payments, in particular, catastrophic health expenditures, across households of differing economic levels.  This talk sets out to examine the change in the incidence and distribution of catastrophic health expenditures before and after the introduction of the National Health Insurance programs in South Korea and Taiwan.


Given similarity in the health and National Health Insurance (NHI) system characteristics observed in South Korea and Taiwan, substantial variation in the distribution of catastrophic payment among households was noted. The rich are more likely to incur catastrophic payment in South Korea, but the opposite trend is noted in Taiwan.  Further assessment on the impact of universal health coverage (UHC) on reducing catastrophic headcount (defined as the proportion of households incurring catastrophic health payment) is observed in Taiwan, but not in South Korea.  We found that when South Korea introduced the NHI program with a limited benefit package and high copayment, it produced little effect (if not none) in reducing financial burden in terms of proportion of catastrophic headcount. On the contrary, the impact of universal health coverage on catastrophic headcount ranged from -1.82% to -4.08% for Taiwan, due to the provision of a rather comprehensive benefit package with modest copayment. While UHC is a well-lauded policy goal and may be a magic word for many countries striving for the achievement, it is definitely not a panacea to resolve the incidence of catastrophic payment and potential medical impoverishment.  To provide sufficient financial protection against unexpected medical expenses, the design of the benefit coverage and risk sharing mechanism is key to the success of effectively achieving UHC. 



Jui-fen Rachel Lu, Sc.D., is the Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Center for East Asian Studies, Stanford University, and a Professor at Chang Gung University (CGU) in Taiwan, where she teaches comparative health systems, health economics, and health care financing and has served as department chair (2000-2004), Associate Dean (2009-2010) and Dean of College of Management (2010-2013).  She earned her B.S. from National Taiwan University, and her M.S. and Sc.D. from Harvard University, and she was also a Takemi Fellow at Harvard (2004-2005).  Prof. Lu is currently the President of Taiwan Society of Health Economics (TaiSHE) and an Honorary Professor at Hong Kong University (2007-2017).  Dr. Lu was also the recipient of IBM Faculty Award in 2009.   


Her research focuses on 1) the equity issues of the health care system; 2) impact of the NHI program on health care market and household consumption patterns; 3) comparative health systems in Asia-Pacific region.  She is a long-time and active member of Equitap (Equity in Asia-Pacific Health Systems) research network and was the coordinator for the catastrophic payment component of Equitap II research project which involved 21 country teams and was jointly funded by IDRC, AusAID, and ADB.  Professor Lu has also been appointed to serve as a member on various government committees dealing with health care issues in Taiwan.  

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