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The impact of asymmetric information in Vietnam's health insurance: An empirical analysis

The impact of asymmetric information in Vietnam's health insurance: An empirical analysis. The Vietnam Health Insuranc Law in 2008 promulgated universal health care by 2014. To build up a sound and sustainable health insurance system towards this goal, we need to accountf for the effect of asymmetric information on the use of the health care services, namely moral hazards and adverse selection.

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Journal of Economics and Development Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012, pp. 5 - 21

ISSN 1859 0020

The Impact of Asymmetric Information
in Vietnam's Health Insurance:
An Empirical Analysis
Nguyen Thi Minh
National Economics University, Vietnam
Email: minhkthn@gmail.com

Hoang Bich Phuong
National Economics University, Vietnam
Nguyen Thi Thao
BBG company, Vietnam


The Vietnam Health Insurance Law in 2008 promulgated universal health care by
2014. To build up a sound and sustainable health insurance system towards this goal,
we need to account for the effect of asymmetric information on the use of the health
care services, namely moral hazards and adverse selection. This paper uses distinctive features of Vietnam's health insurance system to separately estimate the effect of
each type. Our results show that the effect of asymmetric information is quite severe
and prevalent for old people, and is insignificant for young people. The results can
be used for the construction of health insurance policies for Vietnam.
Keywords: Asymmetric information, moral hazard, adverse selection, Health
insurance, PSM

Journal of Economics and Development


Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012

1. Introduction

insurance is not easy if they are dissatisfied
with the program. So it is not a surprise that the
situation with the voluntary insurance (HI)
scheme is even much worse; the coverage is
very limited at 20%, and the authorities are
struggling to improve the situation.

In 1993, eight years after “Doimoi”, the
establishment of the Vietnam health insurance
program marks a new era for the Vietnamese
health care system in which health care services are no longer provided free for all residents.
It is indisputable that the program plays an
important role in helping Vietnamese residents
access health services and in protecting them
from financial shocks or poverty due to sudden
serious illnesses (Wagstaff, 2005a, 2005b). As
such, the Vietnamese government desires to
make health insurance universal by 2014,
which is stated in the Law of Health Insurance
2008. The roadmap to achieve this goal is stated clearly in the Law; however, it is not easy to
make it work as planned. Over the years, not
only did coverage increased slowly but were
problems of shortages of funding in the health
insurance budgets.

Another problem with HI is funding. More
than once, the HI fund has been on the edge of
bankruptcy, and the authorities have had to
amend insurance policies from time to time to
cope, and the results are not always up to standard.

One of the causes that obstructs the development of the health insurance system in
Vietnam is the asymmetric information
between insurance providers and targeted
recipients of health insurance. Asymmetric
information theory was originally proposed by
George A. Akerlof (1970) and further developed by Spencer (1973) and Stiglitz (1975)
among others. The theory states that information asymmetry creates an imbalance in power
between agents in transactions; this leads to a
possibility that some agents may take advantage of the situation and results in market distortion. The common forms of behavior of the
agents with information advantage are adverse
selection and moral hazards. For a developing
country like Vietnam where regulations as well
as monitoring system are not yet well developed, the problem of moral hazards and
adverse selection may be even more serious.
Thus, evaluating the impact of moral hazard
and adverse selection in health insurance could
be helpful for constructing a sound insurance
policy towards universal insurance.

Despite the effort of authorities to expand
insurance coverage, the result is still limited
for both the compulsory schemes and the voluntary scheme. For the compulsory scheme,
20 years after its establishment, the participation rate was only at 50 percent in 2010, i.e. the
other 50% of people avoid purchasing insurance even though it is compulsory for them.
Many people blame the poor services when
using insurance - such as the long queues or
the inhospitable treatment from staffs (e.g.,
Khiet, 2008). According to Cuong (2011), 40%
of the insured who have compulsory insurance
do not use their insurance card when getting
health care. In a developing country like
Vietnam, where the surveillance system is still
in its infancy, forcing residents to purchase
Journal of Economics and Development


Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012

In the health insurance market, adverse
selection means that higher-risk people are
more likely to buy insurance, and the moral
hazard implies that once a person has insurance, he would use health care more than necessary. Hence both adverse selection and the
moral hazard lead to a non-optimum premium
level, and it may lead to market failure if the
effects are too serious. Furthermore, as both
moral hazard and adverse selection can only
take place with insured people, and the motivation of adverse selection is unobserved by
the insurers, it is often an ad hoc process to disentangle the impact of moral hazard from the
adverse selection effect. More specifically, the
insurance status in the health demand equation
is endogenous, and traditional estimators of
moral hazards become biased and inconsistent.

nomic variables such as social class and occupation can also be used as instruments for the
health insurance status as in Vera-Hernandez
(1999). Normally, finding appropriate instrument variables is very hard, and if inappropriate instruments are used, then the results may
even be worse than the normal OLS estimators
(Wooldridge, 2004).

Another method used widely in assessing
moral hazards and adverse selection is the
propensity score matching method (PSM).
This method was originally proposed by
Rosenbaum et al. (1983) as an alternative
method for estimating the treatment effect of a
program when the treatment is not randomly
assigned. Since then, there have been many
authors applying this method to evaluate either
the moral hazard alone or both the moral hazard and adverse selection simultaneously in
health insurance. For example, Barros et al.
(2008) use the matching method to estimate
the moral hazard effect on having ADSE insurance - which is provided by the Portuguese
government to all civil servants and their
dependents. Their estimation is based on the
premise that the ADSE is exogenous, that
means the ADSE is not correlated to a beneficiaries’ health state. They find that moral hazards vary with age, in which young people
(from 18-30 years of age) commit moral hazards while older people do not. In the same
way of taking advantage of the special structure of the insurance market, Liu et al. (2011)
used PSM to estimate the moral hazard and
adverse selection for people in Croatia by
examining the differences in the usage of
health services between three types of insur-

One way to deal with the endogeneity problem is to use instrumental variables (IV). The
IV variables are ones that are correlated with
the instrumented variables and at the same
time, have no direct effect on the dependent
variable. For most studies of this type, socialeconomic variables are often used as instruments for health insurance status. Joett et al.
(2004) for example, use the number of mass
organizations in which an individual belongs
to as an IV for the health insurance status when
studying the moral hazard effect among voluntary insured people in Vietnam. He finds that
people at the lower income level strongly commit to moral hazards, and finds no evidence of
this among high income people. This result
may lead to a suggestion that the moral hazard
effect may become smaller as the standard of
living increases in a country. Other social-ecoJournal of Economics and Development


Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012

ance statuses: no supplementary insurance,
bought supplementary insurance, and supplementary insurance that is provided for free.
They argue that the difference in health care
usage between people who bought insurance
and people who have it for free is due to
adverse selection, and that the difference in
health care usage between people who have it
for free and people who have no insurance is
due to the moral hazard. They found that the
moral hazard and adverse selection prevail for
all age cohorts, and that the level of the effects
varies with age.

from that dealing with adverse selection.
Secondly, we do not restrict our attention in
this paper to voluntary insurance alone but also
include compulsory insurance; therefore this
may provide a more comprehensive picture of
the health insurance system in Vietnam.
Thirdly, the policy relating to health insurances has changed dramatically since 2006,
and become rather stable since 2008 aftermath
due to the approval of the Law of Health
Insurance in 2008, hence a new evaluation
using more updated data would be more appropriate for policy makers. Our work is similar to
the works of Barros et al. (2008) and Liu et al.
(2011). The main differences comes from the
nature of data; the work of Barros is based on
the differences between two groups; the first
group has no ADSE insurance and the second
group consists of people with ADSE insurance, which is granted by the government to
public servants and their dependents. As there
is no problem of selection in the data set, it is
possible to estimate the moral hazard effects of
people using ADSE insurance. However, the
ADSE insurance is only supplementary to universal compulsory insurance in Croatia; hence
the estimated moral hazard effect of having
ADSE insurance may not fully reflect the
moral behavior of insured people. In the work
of Liu et al., apart from two groups of people,
as in the work of Barros, there is another group
that consists of people who choose to buy
insurance. Therefore, they are able to estimate
adverse selection as well as the moral hazard
effects. It is not appropriate to conduct the
same analysis as Liu et al. for Vietnam’s data,
however. The reason is that in Vietnam there

Among the works on health insurances,
very little has been done about Vietnamese
health insurance, except for the works of
Jowett et al. (2003) and Cuong (2011). Jowett
et al. used the multinomial logit model on data
surveyed from three provinces in 1999 to evaluate the effects of moral hazard on people
using voluntary insurance, and found that
poorer people tend to commit moral hazard
more. Also focusing on moral hazard effects,
Cuong (2011) applies difference in difference
method on data from 2004-2006 and found
that having voluntary insurance increases the
usage of inpatient and outpatient care 45% and
70%, respectively.

The main objective of this paper is to estimate the moral hazard and adverse selection
effects in health insurance in Vietnam. This
paper differs from that of Cuong (2011) and
Jowett et al.(2003) in three aspects. Firstly, we
evaluate not only the moral hazard but also the
adverse selection effects at the same time. This
is meaningful for policy purposes as policy
dealing with moral hazard may vastly differ
Journal of Economics and Development


Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012

exist fundamental differences between people
who get insurance for free (just like having
ADSE insurance) and people who buy it, and
it makes PSM irrelevant. Fortunately, as a
country in a transition process, Vietnam’s
insurance exhibits a very salient feature that
makes it possible to apply PSM to estimate the
moral hazard and adverse selection at the same
time. That is, in the country there exists both
compulsory and voluntary insurance, each providing the same services, and more importantly, among the people who are under the compulsory scheme, many of them are uninsured.

totally free health care system, together with a
population with low income, and a large informal sector in the economy, Vietnam moves
forwards to universal health insurance with
great caution.

Early period of development – piloting and
searching for an appropriate model

For the first years of the development of
health insurance, Vietnam has gone through
different stages of constructing policies,
implementing health insurance and expanding
its coverage.

In 1989-1992, health insurance was first
piloted in Vietnam with very limited coverage, in three provinces including Hai Phong,
Vinh Phu and Quang Tri (on a large scale with
both voluntary and compulsory schemes) and
14 other provinces (that only piloted a voluntary scheme). The compulsory and voluntary
schemes were then applied nation-wide starting from 1993, after the issuance by the
Government of the first decree 299/HDBT
Health Insurance Regulation, dated on 15
September 1992. This period focused mainly
on the compulsory scheme, which targeted
public servants and people who work for large
enterprises. The voluntary scheme was limited
to school children and students as the main target.

The structure of our paper is as follows. The
next section describes the development of
health insurance in Vietnam during the last
decade. Section 3 presents data used in the
study. Section 4 describes the methodology
and provides estimated results. Section 5 concludes.
2. The development of health insurances
in Vietnam

Health insurance was first introduced in
Vietnam in the early 1990s, several years after
the broad economic reform of 1986, with a
new concept of “sharing costs between the
state and the people in the country”1. Health
insurance is a non-profit organization and is
regulated by the Social Security Unit, of the
Ministry of Health. Health insurance in
Vietnam is of two types: compulsory insurance
and voluntary insurance. The main difference
between the two types is the target. While
compulsory insurance targets mainly people
from the formal sector, voluntary insurance
targets the rest of the population. Rooted in a
Journal of Economics and Development

Since 1998, the policy paid more attention
to the voluntary scheme, indicated by the
decree 58/1998/ND-CP issued by the
Government, aiming at expanding the coverage of voluntary schemes as well as improving
the benefit package for the insured. However,
the main targets were still school children and


Vol. 14, No.3, December 2012

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