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Article

Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella

Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State. Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other. The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.

Article

Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have experienced a long-term process of improvement in populational health conditions, shifting their health priorities from child–mother care and transmissible diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). However, persistent socioeconomic inequalities create barriers to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). Despite a high level of governmental commitment to UHC, and rising coverage, approximately 25% of the population does not have access to healthcare, particularly in rural and outlying areas. Health system quality issues have been largely ignored, and inefficiency, from health financing to health delivery, is not on the policy agenda. The use of incentives to improve performance are rare in LAC health systems and there are political barriers to introduce reforms in payment systems in the public sector, though the private sector has opportunity to adapt change. Fragmentation in the financing of healthcare is a common theme in the region. Most systems retain social health insurance (SHI) schemes, mostly for the formal sector, and in some cases have more than one; and parallel National Health System (NHS)-type arrangements for the poor and those in the informal labor market. The cost and inefficiency in delivery and financing is considerable. Regional health economics literature stresses inadequate funding—despite the fact that the region has the highest inequality in access and spends the most on healthcare across the regions—and analyzes multiple aspects of health equity. The agenda needs to move from these debates to designing and leveraging delivery and payment systems that target performance and efficiency. The absence of research on payment arrangements and performance is a symptom of a health management culture based on processes rather than results. Indeed, health services in the region remain rooted in a culture of fee-for-service and supply-driven models, where expenditures are independent of outcomes. Health policy reforms in LAC need to address efficiency rather than equity, integrate healthcare delivery, and tackle provider payment reforms. The integration of medical records, adherence to protocols and clinical pathways, establishment of health networks built around primary healthcare, along with harmonized incentives and payment systems, offer a direction for reforms that allow adapting to existing circumstances and institutions. This offers the best path for sustainable UHC in the region.

Article

Important health system challenges in the east and southeast Asian countries/territories of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia exist. The most commonly adopted health system among these areas is social health insurance. The high-income, aging societies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have adopted single-payer/single-pipe systems with a single uniform benefit package and a single fee schedule for paying providers for services included in the benefit package. All three have achieved universal coverage with relatively equitable access to affordable care. All grapple with overutilization, aging populations, and hospital-centric and curative-focused care that is ill-suited for addressing an increasing chronic disease burden. Rising patient expectations and demand for expensive technologies contribute to rising costs. Korea also faces comparatively poorer financial risk protection. China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have also adopted social health insurance, though not single-payer systems. China and Thailand have established noncontributory schemes, whereby the government heavily subsidizes poor and non-poor populations. General tax revenue is used to extend coverage to those outside formal-sector employment. Both countries use multiple, unintegrated schemes to cover their populations. Thailand has improved access to care and financial risk protection. While China has improved insurance coverage, financial risk protection gains have been limited due to low levels of service coverage, fee-for-service payment systems, poor gatekeeping, and the fee schedule that incentivizes overprescription of tests and medicine. Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines use contributory schemes. Government revenue provides insurance coverage for the poor, near-poor, and selected vulnerable populations; the rest of the population must contribute to enroll. Therefore, expanding insurance coverage to the informal sector has been a significant challenge. Instead of social health insurance, Hong Kong and Malaysia have two-tiered health systems where the public sector is financed by general tax revenue and the private sector is financed primarily by out-of-pocket payments and limited private insurance. There is universal access to care; free or subsidized, good-quality public-sector services provide financial risk protection. However, Hong Kong and Malaysia have fragmented delivery systems, weak primary care, budgetary strains, and inequitable access to private care (which may offer shorter wait times and better perceived quality). Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar’s health systems feature high out-of-pocket spending, low government investment in health, and reliance on external aid. User fees, low insurance coverage, unequal distribution of health services, and fragmented financing pose pressing challenges to achieving equitable access and adequate financial risk protection. These countries/territories are diverse in terms of demographics, epidemiological profiles, and stages of economic development, and thus they face different health system challenges and opportunities. This diversity also suggests that these nations/territories will utilize different types of health systems to achieve universal health coverage, whereby all people have equitable access to affordable, good-quality care with adequate financial risk protection.

Article

In 1978, at an international conference in Kazakhstan, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund put forward a policy proposal entitled “Primary Health Care” (PHC). Adopted by all the World Health Organization member states, the proposal catalyzed ideas and experiences by which governments and people began to change their views about how good health was obtained and sustained. The Declaration of Alma-Ata (as it is known, after the city in which the conference was held) committed member states to take action to achieve the WHO definition of health as “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Arguing that good health was not merely the result of biomedical advances, health-services provision, and professional care, the declaration stated that health was a human right, that the inequality of health status among the world’s populations was unacceptable, and that people had a right and duty to become involved in the planning and implementation of their own healthcare. It proposed that this policy be supported through collaboration with other government sectors to ensure that health was recognized as a key to development planning. Under the banner call “Health for All by the Year 2000,” WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund set out to turn their vision for improving health into practice. They confronted a number of critical challenges. These included defining PHC and translating PHC into practice, developing frameworks to translate equity into action, experiencing both the potential and the limitations of community participation in helping to achieve the WHO definition of health, and seeking the necessary financing to support the transformation of health systems. These challenges were taken up by global, national, and nongovernmental organization programs in efforts to balance the PHC vision with the realities of health-service delivery. The implementation of these programs had varying degrees of success and failure. In the future, PHC will need to address to critical concerns, the first of which is how to address the pressing health issues of the early 21st century, including climate change, control of noncommunicable diseases, global health emergencies, and the cost and effectiveness of humanitarian aid in the light of increasing violent disturbances and issues around global governance. The second is how PHC will influence policies emerging from the increasing understanding that health interventions should be implemented in the context of complexity rather than as linear, predictable solutions.

Article

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in developing countries are chiefly a post-World War II phenomenon. Though they have made important contributions to health and development among impoverished people throughout the world, the documentation of these contributions has been limited. Even though BRAC and the Jamkhed Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) are but two of 9.7 million NGOs registered around the world, they are unique. Established in 1972 in Bangladesh, BRAC is now the largest NGO in the world in terms of population served—now reaching 130 million people in 11 different countries. Its programs are multi-sectoral but focus on empowering women and improving the health of mothers and children. Through its unique scheme of generating income through its own social enterprises, BRAC is able to cover 85% of its $1 billion budget from self-generated funds. This innovative approach to funding has enabled BRAC to grow and to sustain that growth as its social enterprises have also prospered. The Jamkhed CRHP, founded in 1970 and located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is notable for its remarkable national and global influence. It is one of the world’s early examples of empowering communities to address their health problems and the social determinants of those problems, in part by training illiterate women to serve as community health workers. The Jamkhed CRHP served as a major influence on the vision of primary health care that emerged at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. Its Institute for Training and Research in Community Health and Population has provided on-site training in community health for 45,000 people from 100 different countries. The book written by the founders entitled Jamkhed: A Comprehensive Rural Health Project, describing its pioneering approach, has been translated into five languages beyond English and is one of the most widely read books on global health. These two exemplary NGOs provide a glimpse of the breadth and depth of NGO contributions to improving the health and well-being of impoverished people throughout the world.

Article

Diane McIntyre, Amarech G. Obse, Edwine W. Barasa, and John E. Ataguba

Within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to critically review research on healthcare financing in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) from the perspective of the universal health coverage (UHC) goals of financial protection and access to quality health services for all. There is a concerning reliance on direct out-of-pocket payments in many SSA countries, accounting for an average of 36% of current health expenditure compared to only 22% in the rest of the world. Contributions to health insurance schemes, whether voluntary or mandatory, contribute a small share of current health expenditure. While domestic mandatory prepayment mechanisms (tax and mandatory insurance) is the next largest category of healthcare financing in SSA (35%), a relatively large share of funding in SSA (14% compared to <1% in the rest of the world) is attributable to, sometimes unstable, external funding sources. There is a growing recognition of the need to reduce out-of-pocket payments and increase domestic mandatory prepayment financing to move towards UHC. Many SSA countries have declared a preference for achieving this through contributory health insurance schemes, particularly for formal sector workers, with service entitlements tied to contributions. Policy debates about whether a contributory approach is the most efficient, equitable and sustainable means of financing progress to UHC are emotive and infused with “conventional wisdom.” A range of research questions must be addressed to provide a more comprehensive empirical evidence base for these debates and to support progress to UHC.