China's New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme and Underutilization of Medical Care Among Adults Over 45: Evidence From CHARLS Pilot Data


For further information, contact: Donglan Zhang, MA, Department of Health Services, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, 650 Charles E. Young Drive South, 61–253 CHS Box 951772, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1772; e-mail:



With its population rapidly aging, China needs prompt action to facilitate the middle-aged and senior citizens' utilization of health care. The New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a health care reform initiative started in 2003, is currently China's primary insurance program for the rural population.


With a 2-province pilot sample (Gansu, the poorest province, and Zhejiang, one of the richest) of people over age 45 from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), this paper used logistic regressions to examine the association between the coverage of New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme and the underutilization of medical care.


Among those who had a need to visit a health care provider during the previous month, people covered by NCMS were more likely to underutilize outpatient care than the uninsured (Odds Ratio = 5.610, 2.035-15.466). As for those who had a need to be hospitalized in the past year, the association between NCMS coverage and the underutilization of inpatient care was not statistically significant (Odds Ratio = 1.907, 0.335-10.862). Low total household expenditure per capita, living in the inland province of Gansu, and being an urban resident were also associated with underutilizing outpatient care.


Further research is needed to understand the negative association between NCMS coverage and outpatient care utilization.