Much of the existing literature on the financial protection of health insurance focuses on the impact of insurance status on total out-of-pocket expenditure on all sorts of care sought, regardless of whether the insured patients use their health insurance cards. Using Vietnam’s 2006 Household Living Standard Survey data and an appropriate multivariate regression model, this article assesses the influence of Vietnam’s three health insurance schemes on out-of-pocket expenditures with and without controlling for the actual use of the health insurance card when seeking outpatient care. Vietnam’s experience suggests that insurance provides some financial protection, provided that insurance benefits are actually accessed. Compared with private fee-paying patients, the use of the insurance card reduces out-of-pocket expenditures, on average, by as much as 50–56%. In contrast, failure to control for the use of the health insurance card reduces the financial protection of insurance to 26–37%. However, the financial protection benefits afforded by Vietnam’s insurance schemes are distributed rather inequitably. Insurance reduces out-of-pocket expenditures by as much as 71–75% for contacts at the major state hospitals, as compared with 26–38% for contacts at the community health centres. The overall financial protection provided by insurance is also found to be larger for the higher-income individuals than the middle- and low-income individuals. Efforts to ensure that all enrollees receive equitable and good-quality health services according to the benefits package appear warranted. Improving the quality of care provided by the community health centres—the main access point for medical care for many enrollees with health insurance for the poor coverage—and a more effective referral system may also be a cost-effective way of channelling outpatient service contact to the lower-level health facilities, away from the overcrowded higher-level health facilities.