Wednesday, August 4, 2010

qotd: The impact of Taiwan's single payer system on amenable mortality

BMC Health Services Research
August 4, 2010
The impact of universal National Health Insurance on population health: the experience of Taiwan
By Yue-Chune Lee, Yu-Tung Huang, Yi-Wen Tsai, Shiuh-Ming Huang, Ken N Kuo, Martin McKee and Ellen Nolte


Taiwan established a system of universal National Health Insurance (NHI) in March, 1995. Today, the NHI covers more than 98% of Taiwan's population and enrollees enjoy almost free access to healthcare with small co-payment by most clinics and hospitals. Yet while this expansion of coverage will almost inevitably have improved access to health care, however, it cannot be assumed that it will necessarily have improved the health of the population. The aim of this study was to determine whether the introduction of National Health Insurance (NHI) in Taiwan in 1995 was associated with a change in deaths from causes amenable to health care.


Identification of discontinuities in trends in mortality considered amenable to health care and all other conditions (non-amenable mortality) using joinpoint regression analysis from 1981 to 2005.


Deaths from amenable causes declined between 1981 and 1993 but slowed between 1993 and 1996. Once NHI was implemented, the decline accelerated significantly, falling at 5.83% per year between 1996 and 1999. In contrast, there was little change in non-amenable causes (0.64 percent per year between 1981 and 1999). The effect of NHI was highest among the young and old, and lowest among those of working age, consistent with changes in the pattern of coverage. (This result is consistent with our expectations as 77% of the working age population were already covered by the pre-existing social insurance; thus they were inevitably going to be affected less by the introduction of NHI.) NHI was associated with substantial reductions in deaths from circulatory disorders and, for men, infections, whilst an earlier upward trend in female cancer deaths was reversed.


NHI was associated in a reduction in deaths considered amenable to health care; particularly among those age groups least likely to have been insured previously.

Policy Implications

These findings have implications for other countries that do not have universal health insurance coverage. The implementation of NHI in Taiwan was associated with a sustained reduction in deaths from causes amenable to health care, which surpassed the underlying decline in other causes. It is reasonable to expect that the introduction of universal coverage elsewhere might also have beneficial effects.

Looking ahead, while the Taiwanese NHI has succeeded in terms of cost (3.4% of GDP), satisfaction (77.5% satisfied in 2007), low administrative cost (1.49%), and equitable financial burden, the system is not without problems. For example, as a publicly-managed program, it is difficult to insulate it from political interference, a factor that has contributed to a continuing financial deficit. Thus, the existing budget may be inadequate to sustain the current level of performance.

Full article (provisional):

United States has worst rate of amenable mortality:

Comment:  Taiwan's 1995 introduction of a single payer system of universal National Health Insurance provides us with a natural experiment on the impact of single payer reform on health outcomes. The results are dramatic. The rate in reductions of deaths due to disorders that are amenable to health care were nine times the reductions in deaths from non-amenable causes. Nine times!

The United States should be especially interested in these results since, in a study of nineteen industrialized nations, we have the worst rate of amenable mortality (link above). We have over 100,000 excess deaths per year due to disorders amenable to health care.

Will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) erase this blemish on our health care system? Most of our dysfunctional financing system will remain in place. Some will receive care under an expansion of Medicaid, but as a chronically underfunded program with insufficient numbers of willing providers, access problems are inevitable. Others will receive care under the private plans in the insurance exchanges, but financial barriers to access will remain because of the low actuarial values of the plans and inadequate subsidies. There is little reason to believe that the tweaks of PPACA will have much impact on amenable mortality.

After enacting a single payer system, Taiwan not only greatly reduced amenable mortality, but it was done at a fraction of our spending, with great patient satisfaction, with extremely low administrative costs, and with a financing system that is equitable. Maybe Taiwan needs to spend more, but just think of what we could have with the amount that we are already spending. Besides, saving 100,000 lives a year seems to be a worthy policy goal.

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