While moving towards unified social health insurance (SHI) is often a politically popular policy reform in countries where rapid expansion in health insurance coverage has given rise to the segmentation of SHI systems as different SHI schemes were rolled out to serve different populations, the potential impacts of reform on service utilisation and health costs have not been systematically studied. Using data from the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), we compared the mean costs incurred for both inpatient and outpatient care under different health insurance schemes, and the impact of different SHI schemes on treatment utilisation and health care costs using a two-part model. Our results show that Urban Employee Medical Insurance, which offers the most generous benefits, incurs the highest total costs prior to reimbursement when compared to other SHI schemes. Our analysis also shows that utilisation of SHI did not show significant reduction in out-of-pocket payments for outpatients. We argue that, unless effective measures are introduced to deal with perverse provider payment incentives, the move towards a unified system with more generous benefits may usher in a new wave of cost escalation for health care systems in China.