How Does Out-of-Pocket Payment Affect Choices When Accessing Health Care?—A Qualitative Study on Hypertensive Outpatients in Southern Taiwan



The National Health Insurance in Taiwan provides the entire population with universal coverage and full freedom to access health care, and thus results in accelerating medical utilization and costs. A differential outpatient co-payment was introduced on July 15, 2005, to deter nonessential visits and encourage initial contact in primary care and a stepwise access to health care (referral system). A previous study, however, showed a limited impact of this co-payment policy on reducing medical utilization and improving the referral system. This qualitative study aimed to explore Taiwanese patients' decision-making process to access health care and how the cost issue impacts patients' access to health care and explore patients' cost-saving strategies.


Hypertensive patients from different tiers of medical facilities (community, regional hospitals, and medical centers) in the Kao-Ping area of southern Taiwan were invited to participate in focus groups from October 2008 to January 2009.


Of all, 40 participants were recruited for nine focus groups. The physicians' reputation, tiers of hospitals, and the convenience of transport and registration are the three major reasons why participants accessed different medical facilities. Participants expressed that the current out-of-pocket payment is affordable and not as important as other reasons for their choices. Continuous prescription was considered a cost-saving strategy for patients visiting higher tiers of medical facilities. Most participants were not fully aware of current National Health Insurance regulations such as co-payment, continuous prescriptions, and the referral policy.


The current out-of-pocket payment is affordable for hypertensive patients receiving regular treatments, but it fails to reduce the demand of health care. To establish a proper evaluation of the co-payment policy, future study is suggested to consider the views from health care providers and financially vulnerable patients.


Li-Chia Chen Yung-Ying Lee Tsung-Hsien Lin Chee-Siong Lee Chuen-Jing Li Deng-Chyang Wu

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