Medical Savings Account balance and outpatient utilization: Evidence from Guangzhou, China

Hui Zhang, Pok Man Peter Yuen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Medical Savings Account (MSA) is a financing instrument designed to reduce consumer-side moral hazards. The Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance (UEBMI) scheme in China has an MSA component in addition to a Social Risk-pooling Fund. This study examines the association between MSA balance and outpatient utilization in Guangzhou, China, and determines MSA's impact on utilization under different circumstances. It also seeks to ascertain whether MSA has achieved its intended functions of "Cost-containment", "Saving for the future" and "Enabling utilization". The first group of 114,657 MSA account-holders, including both employees and retirees, who consistently insured with UEBMI from 2002 to 2007, are selected for this study. A two-part model is employed to estimate the effect of the MSA balance on the probability of outpatient services utilization and on the level of outpatient expenditure. Results show that MSA balance is significantly associated with the likelihood of using outpatient services as well as the level of outpatient expenditure. The association is a non-linear U-shaped relationship for working individuals, and an inverted U-shaped relationship for the retirees. The observed U-shaped relationship for working individuals implies that at lower MSA balance levels, a negative balance-expenditure relation exits, while at higher MSA balance levels, the relationship is positive - suggesting possible improper utilization when MSA balance reaches high levels. Setting a maximum MSA balance limit and/or allowing enrollees to use MSA funds to purchase private insurance appears to be desirable. The observed inverted U-shaped relationship for retirees suggests that many retirees have to spend whatever funds they have in their MSA for outpatient care, but the less healthy individuals are able to shift the spending to inpatient care which is mainly financed by the Social Risk-pooling Fund. The results of this study also affirm the usefulness of MSA in performing its intended functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • China
  • Health insurance
  • Medical Savings Account
  • Outpatient utilization
  • Urban health care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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