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Inequitable Access to Health Care by the Poor in Community-Based Health Insurance Programs: A Review of Studies From Low- and Middle-Income Countries.


Out-of-pocket payments for health care services lead to decreased use of health services and catastrophic health expenditures. To reduce out-of-pocket payments and improve access to health care services, some countries have introduced community-based health insurance (CBHI) schemes, especially for those in rural communities or who work in the informal sector. However, there has been little focus on equity in access to health care services in CBHI schemes.We searched PubMed, Web of Science, African Journals OnLine, and Africa-Wide Information for studies published in English between 2000 and August 2014 that examined the effect of socioeconomic status on willingness to join and pay for CBHI, actual enrollment, use of health care services, and drop-out from CBHI. Our search yielded 755 articles. After excluding duplicates and articles that did not meet our inclusion criteria (conducted in low- and middle-income countries and involved analysis based on socioeconomic status), 49 articles remained that were included in this review. Data were extracted by one author, and the second author reviewed the extracted data. Disagreements were mutually resolved between the 2 authors. The findings of the studies were analyzed to identify their similarities and differences and to identify any methodological differences that could account for contradictory findings.Generally, the rich were more willing to pay for CBHI than the poor and actual enrollment in CBHI was directly associated with socioeconomic status. Enrollment in CBHI was price-elastic-as premiums decreased, enrollment increased. There were mixed results on the effect of socioeconomic status on use of health care services among those enrolled in CBHI. We found a high drop-out rate from CBHI schemes that was not related to socioeconomic status, although the most common reason for dropping out of CBHI was lack of money to pay the premium.The effectiveness of CBHI schemes in achieving universal health coverage in low- and middle-income countries is questionable. A flexible payment plan where the poor can pay in installments, subsidized premiums for the poor, and removal of co-pays are measures that can increase enrollment and use of CBHI by the poor.