Community-Based Health Insurance & Social Protection Policy

Of all the risks facing poor households, health risks pose the greatest threat to their lives and livelihoods. A health shock adds health expenditures to the burden of the poor precisely at the time when they can afford it the least. One of the ways that poor communities manage health risks, in combination with publicly financed health care services, are community-based health insurance schemes (CBHIs). These are small scale, voluntary health insurance programs, organized and managed in a participatory manner. They are designed to be simple and affordable, and to draw on resources of social solidarity and cohesion to overcome problems of small risk pools, moral hazard, fraud, exclusion and cost-escalation. Less than 10 percent of the informal sector population in the developing nations has health coverage from a CBHI, but the number of such schemes is growing rapidly. On average, CBHIs recover between a quarter to a half of health service costs. As a social protection device, they have been shown to be effective in reducing out-of-pocket payments of their members, and in improving access to health services. Many schemes do fail. Problems, such as weak management, poor quality government health services, and the limited resources that local population can mobilize to finance health care, can impede success.