What Can Be Learned From Inclusive Health Insurance Schemes in Developing Countries?

Most poor households in low- and middle-income countries pay for health care out-of-pocket and, as a result, many are forced to borrow money, sell assets, and risk falling further into poverty. This fact suggests that there is a significant market for mechanisms to pool health-related financial risk.
 
A new resource developed by Abt Associates in collaboration with several partners provides a searchable database of inclusive health insurance programs targeted at poor households in developing countries. Such programs — which are also known as “micro health insurance” or “health microinsurance” in its broadest definition — refer to public and private health insurance models that are compatible with the health needs and resource limitations of low-income families.
 
The database includes information on each inclusive health insurance product, as well as emerging lessons extracted from academic journals, publications by industry leaders, and submissions from practitioners.
 
“This tool will be a valuable resource for the field of health insurance aimed at low-income families. It not only provides a comprehensive overview of such programs, but it will be a living document, updated as new information becomes available,” said Thierry van Bastelaer, principal associate at Abt Associates and facilitator of the Microinsurance Network’s Health Working Group, the partner on behalf of which the effort was undertaken.
 
The tool is a continuation of Abt Associates’ longstanding work in expanding access to health insurance across the developing world, and builds on knowledge and research produced by the company, particularly in the areas of community-based health financing and social health insurance. 
 
The resource sheds light on how innovations in benefit packages can increase access to health care and reduce financial burdens on households. Some inclusive health insurance schemes have helped to improve access by covering transportation costs to health care facilities or, in countries where women do not travel alone, paying for a second person to accompany female patients. Others have decreased clients’ financial burden from illness by compensating for wages lost while they were sick.
 
The lessons offered by the database can help practitioners try to overcome the many challenges that limit the growth and impact of inclusive health insurance in low- and middle-income countries.
 
The database is available online through the web sites of two project partners: The International Labour Organization’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility and the Center for Health Market Innovations, a public web platform managed by Results for Development. Other partners on the project include the Microinsurance Network, which financed part of the activity, and Denis Garand and Associates.