SEATTLE — The idea of a health care system capable of providing financial support for health services to an entire country’s population may seem idyllic and unattainable at first glance. However, in their newest agenda, the U.N. is developing strategies to work towards a Universal Health Care system in the hopes of doing just that.
In order to understand how the future of Universal Health Care (U.H.C.) will affect both individuals and entire countries, it is important to understand exactly what U.H.C. is and what it is not. According to the W.H.O., Universal Health Care means that all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. U.H.C. does not mean providing free coverage for all possible health interventions free of charge, as no country would be able to support this venture financially.
U.H.C. emphasizes the importance of gaining access to essential health services in order to improve health outcomes for an entire population. These services could range anywhere from preventative care and health promotion services to rehabilitation and palliative or specialized care. While U.H.C. does not guarantee the highest quality of service to every individual, it does ensure that no individual will slip into poverty as a result of crippling medical expenses. Because of this feature, the implementation of U.H.C. contributes to the aim of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate extreme poverty.
In addition to helping individuals avoid slipping into poverty, Universal Health Care can provide opportunities for economic growth at a national level. The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health argued that improvements in health may even account for as much as 24 percent of economic growth in low and middle-income countries. Basic improvements in maternal health and child care could drastically improve maternal and infant mortality rates in these low resource countries.
Implementation of Shared Health Care
A number of countries have already made strides in implementing a shared health care system, many of which have shown evidence of great success. In Japan, the shift to a universal system has helped to achieve the world’s lowest infant mortality rate as well as the longest life expectancy, two huge benchmarks used to measure the success of any healthcare system. Further, Japan’s total federal budget for health care expenditures accounted for a mere 6.6 percent of their GDP, proving that a large budget is not necessary for the future of universal health care to be successful.
Not only will the future of Universal Health Care improve health systems in developed countries like Japan, but it also has the potential to help treat many of the preventable diseases that plague developing countries. Already, shared health systems have contributed to mutual prosperity in a number of low resource nations. In Argentina, U.H.C. has helped to improve health services and accessibility for poor pregnant women. As a result, the plan has reduced the probability of in-hospital neonatal death by 74 percent for plan beneficiaries.
Funding controversy aside, a global effort towards good health will allow children and adults to learn and work, help poor communities escape poverty and contribute to long-term economic development. Adding this mission to the U.N. 2030 agenda will hold nations accountable for their own public health as well as the health of those suffering across the world.
– Sarah Coiro