User fees at public health care facilities and out-of-pocket payments for health care services are major health financing problems in Vietnam. In 2002, the Government launched the Health Care Funds for the Poor (HCFP) policy which offered free public health care services to help the poor access public health services and reduce their health care expenditure (HCE). This paper is an assessment of the implementation of the HCFP in a rural district of Vietnam. The impacts of HCFP on household HCE as a percentage of total expenditure and health care utilization were assessed by a double-difference propensity score matching method using panel data of 10,711 households in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007. The results showed that the HCFP significantly reduced the HCE as a percentage of total expenditure and increased the use of the local public health care among the poor. However, the impacts of HCFP on the use of the higher levels of public health care and the use of go-to-pharmacies were not significant. In conclusion, this assessment indicates that the HCFP has met its objectives by reducing HCE for the poor and increasing their use of the local public health care services. However, further efforts are needed to help them access higher levels of public health care. Pharmacists should be better regulated and incorporated with primary health care to improve efficiency of the system. © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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