Universal health coverage implies that people obtain the health services they need without experiencing financial hardship. While the factors contributing to catastrophic health expenditure (CHE) among households are well understood, few studies have examined this relationship in the context of environmentally vulnerable regions, such as tropical deltas. This study aims to examine the disparities in the prevalence of CHE and impoverishment due to out-of-pocket (OOP) healthcare payments in the Mekong Delta in comparison with rest of Vietnam. It also intends to investigate the associations between economic and environmental shocks, CHE and the impoverishment from healthcare payments.
Using data from the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey 2012, the prevalence of CHE was estimated from the fraction of healthcare costs in relation to household consumption expenditure. The poverty headcount was estimated using the total household consumption expenditure considering both with and without OOP expenditure for healthcare in comparison with the national poverty-line. Simple and multiple logistic regression models were used to examine the associations between geography, health systems, environmental and demographic variables and OOP healthcare expenditure related CHE, and impoverishment respectively.
Both the level of OOP household healthcare expenditure and the proportion of households suffering from impoverishment as the result of such payments were higher in the Mekong Delta region compared to rest of Vietnam. Although the results from the multiple regression analysis showed that households in the Mekong Delta region were significantly less likely to suffer from CHE, they were significantly more likely to be impoverished due to OOP healthcare expenditure. While health insurance membership did not have a significant effect on either outcomes, households that faced an economic or an environmental shock in past 5 years were considerably more likely to suffer from CHE and impoverishment from OOP healthcare payments.
The findings suggest that the financial protection capacity of health insurance schemes in Vietnam should be improved and expanded to reduce impoverishment as the result of OOP healthcare payments, particularly in the Mekong Delta region. Additional investments in disaster preparedness strategies can further help to reduce the financial burden of households in this environmentally vulnerable region.