Investigating the association of health system characteristics and health care utilization: a multilevel model in China's ageing population

Chaofan Li, Chengxiang Tang, Haipeng Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: To achieve universal health coverage in China, it is necessary to identify access barriers to health care. This study examined the association between health system characteristics and health care utilization in China and identified factors associated with accessing health care among the mid-aged and elderly.

Methods: Data were obtained from the 2015 China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, and 17 370 respondents aged 45 and above were included in the analysis. The dependent variables were the use of outpatient and inpatient care among respondents. Health system characteristics at the provincial level were measured using the density of doctors and ward beds, health expenditure per visit/admission and health financing. A two-level logistic regression model was constructed to examine association between health care utilization and health system characteristics, controlling for predisposing, enabling and need variables.

Results: Of the 17 370 respondents, 18.3% had utilized outpatient care and 13.7% had utilized inpatient care in 2015. Increases in the share of out-of-pocket (OOP) payments as total health spending at the provincial-level was less likely to be associated with outpatient care utilization (odds ratio (OR) = 0.96, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.93-0.98) among the mid-age and elderly population. Increases in the share of OOP payments (OR = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.97-1.00) and health expenditure per admission (OR = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.04-0.88) were less likely to be associated with inpatient care utilization, while increases in the density of beds (OR = 1.26, 95% CI = 1.10-1.43) was more likely to be associated with inpatient care utilization. gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at the provincial level and types of health insurance owned by respondents were significantly related to both inpatient and outpatient care utilization.

Conclusions: Low affordability of the mid-aged and elderly population is the main barrier to utilizing health care in China. In order to improve access to health care, the government should make more efforts, such as improving health insurance reimbursement rates and implementing prospective provider payment methods, to decrease OOP payment for the ageing population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number020802
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Global Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Bayes Theorem
  • China
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Prospective Studies


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