Objectives Government healthcare subsidies for healthcare facilities play a significant role in providing more extensive healthcare access to patients, especially poor ones. However, equitable distribution of these subsidies continues to pose a challenge in rural ethnic minority areas of China. This study aimed to evaluate the benefits distribution of outpatient services across different socioeconomic populations in China's rural ethnic minority areas. Setting Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province. Design Two rounds of cross-sectional study. Participants One thousand and seventy patients in 2010 and 907 patients in 2013, who sought outpatient services prior to completing the household surveys, were interviewed. Methods Benefits incidence analysis was performed to measure the benefits distribution of government healthcare subsidies across socioeconomic groups. The concentration index (CI) for outpatient care at different healthcare facility levels in rural ethnic minority areas was calculated. Two rounds of household surveys using multistage stratified samples were conducted. Findings The overall CI for outpatient care was -0.0146 (P>0.05) in 2010 and -0.0992 (P<0.01) in 2013. In 2010, the CI was -0.0537 (P<0.01), -0.0085 (P>0.05) and '0.0034 (P>0.05) at levels of village clinics (VCs), township health centres (THCs) and county hospitals (CHs), respectively. In 2013, the CI was -0.1353 (P<0.05), -0.0695 (P>0.05) and -0.1633 (P<0.01) at the levels of VCs, THCs and CHs, respectively. Conclusion Implementation of the gatekeeper mechanism helped improve the benefits distribution of government healthcare subsidies in rural Chinese ethnic minority areas. Equitable distribution of government healthcare subsidies for VCs was improved by increasing financial input and ensuring the performance of primary healthcare facilities. Equitable distribution of subsidies for CHs was improved by policies that rationally guided patients' care-seeking behaviour. In addition, highly qualified physicians were also a key factor in ensuring equitable benefits distribution.
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- benefit distribution
- ethnic minority
- government healthcare subsidies
- Kakwani Index
- outpatient care