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Increasingly, low- and middle-income countries are looking to community-based health insurance (CBHI) as a means of ensuring access to health care for the poor. However, little evidence exists about the determining factors that affect poor individuals' insurance decisions. This article reviews the economic and social literature on theories of decision-making, and presents empirical findings from different socio-economic contexts to describe individuals' insurance enrolment decisions in a low-income environment. Evidence from these studies suggests that several factors may explain poor households' decision to insure or remain uninsured. Combining empirical evidence with theories may serve to develop health policies to address issues related to the insurance design, the socio-economic and the informational context; with the overall objective of improving access to care for the poor.