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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Community perceptions of health insurance and their preferred design features: implications for the design of universal health coverage reforms in Kenya

Stephen Mulupi1, Doris Kirigia1 and Jane Chuma123*

Author Affiliations

1 KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, P.O. Box 230, Kilifi, Kenya

2 Centre for Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

3 School of Economics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:474  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-474

Published: 12 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Health insurance is currently being considered as a mechanism for promoting progress to universal health coverage (UHC) in many African countries. The concept of health insurance is relatively new in Africa, it is hardly well understood and remains unclear how it will function in countries where the majority of the population work outside the formal sector. Kenya has been considering introducing a national health insurance scheme (NHIS) since 2004. Progress has been slow, but commitment to achieve UHC through a NHIS remains. This study contributes to this process by exploring communities’ understanding and perceptions of health insurance and their preferred designs features. Communities are the major beneficiaries of UHC reforms. Kenyans should understand the implications of health financing reforms and their preferred design features considered to ensure acceptability and sustainability.

Methods

Data presented in this paper are part of a study that explored feasibility of health insurance in Kenya. Data collection methods included a cross-sectional household survey (n = 594 households) and focus group discussions (n = 16).

Results

About half of the household survey respondents had at least one member in a health insurance scheme. There was high awareness of health insurance schemes but limited knowledge of how health insurance functions as well as understanding of key concepts related to income and risk cross-subsidization. Wide dissatisfaction with the public health system was reported. However, the government was the most preferred and trusted agency for collecting revenue as part of a NHIS. People preferred a comprehensive benefit package that included inpatient and outpatient care with no co-payments. Affordability of premiums, timing of contributions and the extent to which population needs would be met under a contributory scheme were major issues of concern for a NHIS design. Possibilities of funding health care through tax instead of NHIS were raised and preferred by the majority.

Conclusion

This study provides important information on community understanding and perceptions of health insurance. As Kenya continues to prepare for UHC, it is important that communities are educated and engaged to ensure that the NHIS is acceptable to the population it serves.