The Social Life of Health Insurance in Low- to Middle-income Countries: An Anthropological Research Agenda


The following article identifies new areas for engaged medical anthropological research on health insurance in low‐ and middle‐income countries (LMICs). Based on a review of the literature and pilot research, we identify gaps in how insurance is understood, administered, used, and abused. We provide a historical overview of insurance as an emerging global health panacea and then offer brief assessments of three high‐profile attempts to provide universal health coverage. Considerable research on health insurance in LMICs has been quantitative and focused on a limited set of outcomes. To advance the field, we identify eight productive areas for future ethnographic research that will add depth to our understanding of the social life and impact of health insurance in LMICs. Anthropologists can provide unique insights into shifting health and financial practices that accompany insurance coverage, while documenting insurance programs as they evolve and respond to contingencies.