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The Effects of Health Insurance on Health-Seeking Behaviour: Evidence from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Authors Al-Hanawi MK, Mwale ML, Kamninga TM

Received 8 April 2020

Accepted for publication 5 June 2020

Published 18 June 2020 Volume 2020:13 Pages 595—607


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Marco Carotenuto

Mohammed Khaled Al-Hanawi,1 Martin Limbikani Mwale,2 Tony Mwenda Kamninga3

1Department of Health Services and Hospital Administration, Faculty of Economics and Administration, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; 2Department of Economics, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa; 3Department of Economics, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Millennium University, Blantyre, Malawi

Correspondence: Mohammed Khaled Al-Hanawi Email

Background: Saudi Arabia’s healthcare sector is growing at a hasty stride; nevertheless, the quality of healthcare consumption remains challenged by the growing caseload in free public health facilities. Insurance could ease this pressure by moving some healthcare demand to private facilities conditional on its ability to enact health-seeking behaviour. These potential effects remain under-investigated. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate whether health insurance nudges health-seeking behaviour using data from Saudi Arabia.
Materials and Methods: The study used nationally representative secondary data, obtained from the Family Health Survey, conducted in 2018, in Saudi Arabia. Health-seeking behaviour was measured by individual attendance of medical check-up. To account for endogeneity due to non-random selection of individuals into insurance, the analysis employed the inverse propensity weighting and the instrumental variables methods.
Results: The results revealed that health insurance leads to increased chances of going for medical check-up. The effects are higher amongst non-Saudi nationals relative to citizens. Furthermore, people who purchase personal health insurance schemes are more likely to go for checks-ups, followed by individuals provided by the private sector and government sector. Finally, the study found that insurance positively nudges hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol specific medical check-ups.
Conclusion: The findings indicated the need for health policy to increase access to health insurance in Saudi Arabia. A notable policy response is the introduction of national health insurance coverage, which has already proven in other countries as an effective measure to attain universal access to improved health. Nevertheless, results from this study highlighted variations in demand for health seeking based on type of insurance with highest returns in personal insurance. Policy should leverage on this behaviour response by introducing insurance packages that share premiums with citizens to incentivise utilisation. The results can also be used to design policy responses to demand for insurance, in the entire Arabian Gulf region, since these countries have similar health financing mechanism with Saudi Arabia.

Keywords: healthcare financing, health insurance, health sector, national health programs, Saudi Arabia

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