This paper examines the equality of utilization for equal need and equity of out-of-pocket expenditure for health services in a large urban area in Thailand. Data from a household health interview survey were used to explore patterns of perceived morbidity, utilization of various treatment sources, and out-of-pocket payment. Financial access to health care, as reflected in medical benefit/ insurance cover, appeared to influence reported illness and hospitalization rates. Gross lack of access to health care amongst lower socio-economic groups was not the main problem in this densely populated urban area because people could choose and use alternative health services according to their ability and willingness to pay. The corollary, however, was an inequitable pattern of out-of-pocket health expenditure by income quintile and per capita. The underprivileged were more likely to pay out of their own pocket for their health problems, and to pay out of proportion to their household income when compared with more privileged groups. Furthermore, the underprivileged were least likely to be covered by government health benefit schemes, in contrast in particular to civil servants, who paid less out of pocket and did not contribute to their medical benefit fund. The private health sector private clinics and private hospitals) was the major provider of health care to urban dwellers for both outpatient and inpatient services. Policy options for the short and long term to improve the equity of payment systems for health care are discussed.
Social Science & Medicine (1997) 44 (12) 1781-1790 [doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(96)00287-0 ]