Migration and investments in the health of children left behind: the role of remittances in children’s healthcare utilization in Cambodia

Remittances, financial support from family members who have migrated for work, are an increasingly important source of income for households left behind in many lower- and middle-income countries. While remittances have been shown to affect the health status of children left behind, evidence is very limited as to whether and how they affect children's healthcare utilization. Yet, this is an important consideration for policymakers seeking to improve equitable access to quality care in settings where migration is common. I examine whether children under age five whose household receives remittances are more likely to utilize higher quality healthcare providers than those without remittances in Cambodia, a country with high rates of migration and a pluralistic health system. The analysis includes 2230 children reporting recent illness in three waves of the Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey with data on migration, remittances and children's health expenditures. I use mixed-effects and fixed-effects regression analysis to estimate the effect of remittances on children's likelihood of entering care with a formally trained provider, and among those attending a formally trained provider, likelihood of using a public-sector facility. Treatment expenditures are lower among households with remittances, while transportation expenditures do not vary significantly by remittance status. In mixed-effects and fixed-effect regression models, children who receive remittances have a lower likelihood of utilizing qualified providers (adjusted OR = 0.66, 95% confidence interval 0.44-0.98), though this effect is attenuated in fixed-effects models, and there is no association between remittances and attending a public-sector facility. These findings underscore that remittances alone are not sufficient to increase children's utilization of qualified providers in migrant-sending areas, and suggest that policymakers should to address barriers to care beyond cost to promote utilization and equity of access to higher quality care where remittances are a common source of income.