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How and to what extent can pensions facilitate increased use of health services by older people: evidence from social pension expansion in rural China.

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Chen, Xi 
Law, Stephen 
Lucas, Henry 
Tang, Shenlan 


BACKGROUND: The proportion of people aged 60 years or over is growing faster than other age groups. Traditionally, retirement has been considered as both a loss to the labour market and an additional economic burden on the nation. More recently, it is widely accepted that retired people can still contribute to society in many ways, though the extent of their contributions will depend heavily on their state of health. In this context, a significant practical issue is how to encourage older people to use the health services they need. This study aims to evaluate the effects of pensions on older adults' health service utilization, and estimate the level of pension required to influence such utilization. METHODS: Using data from a nationally representative sample survey, the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, we adopted a fuzzy regression discontinuity design and undertook segmented regression analysis. RESULTS: It was found that a pension did encourage low-income people to use both outpatient (OR = 1.219, 95% 1.018-1.460) and inpatient services (OR = 1.269, 95% 1.020-1.579); but also encouraged both low- and high-income people to choose self-treatment, specifically over-the-counter (OR = 1.208, 95% 1.037-1.407; OR = 1.206, 95% 1.024-1.419; respectively) and traditional Chinese medicines (OR = 1.452, 95% 1.094-1.932; OR = 1.456, 95% 1.079-1.955; respectively). However, receiving a pension had no effect on the frequency of outpatient and inpatient service use. Breakpoints for a pension to promote health service utilization were mainly located in the range 55-95 CNY (7.1-12.3 EUR or 8.0-13.8 USD). CONCLUSIONS: A pension was found to have mixed effects on health service utilization for different income groups. Our study enriches existing evidence on the impact of pensions on healthcare-seeking behaviour and can be helpful in policy design and the formulation of improved models relating to pensions and healthcare utilisation.


Funder: National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People's Republic of China; doi:


Health service utilization, Pension, Regression discontinuity design, Segmented regression, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, China, Health Services, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Middle Aged, Pensions, Retirement

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BMC Health Serv Res

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC