Effect of health expenses on household capabilities and resource allocation in a rural commune in Vietnam

Kim Thuy Nguyen, Oanh Thi Hai Khuat, Shuangge Ma, Duc Cuong Pham, Giang Thi Hong Khuat, Jennifer Prah Ruger
PloS One 2012, 7 (10): e47423

BACKGROUND: Significant health expenses can force households to reduce consumption of items required for daily living and long-term well-being, depriving them of the capability to lead economically stable and healthy lives. Previous studies of out-of-pocket (OOP) and other health expenses have typically characterized them as "catastrophic" in terms of a threshold level or percentage of household income. We aim to re-conceptualize the impact of health expenses on household "flourishing" in terms of "basic capabilities."

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a 2008 survey covering 697 households, on consumption patterns and health treatments for the previous 12 months. We compare consumption patterns between households with and without inpatient treatment, and between households with different levels of outpatient treatment, for the entire study sample as well as among different income quartiles. We find that compared to households without inpatient treatment and with lower levels of outpatient treatment, households with inpatient treatment and higher levels of outpatient treatment reduced investments in basic capabilities, as evidenced by decreased consumption of food, education and production means. The lowest income quartile showed the most significant decrease. No quartile with inpatient or high-level outpatient treatment was immune to reductions.

CONCLUSIONS: The effects of health expenses on consumption patterns might well create or exacerbate poverty and poor health, particularly for low income households. We define health expenditures as catastrophic by their reductions of basic capabilities. Health policy should reform the OOP system that causes this economic and social burden.

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