On June 25th 2015, after the American Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, President Barack Obama declared “Healthcare is not a privilege for a few but a right for all.” This highlights the call for many politicians around the world to improve healthcare, but why? And how?
The people of a country are its most important resource. They are more important than the country’s natural resources and other capital resources. This has led governments all around the world to invest in HRD (Human Resource Development). This, in its most rudimentary form, includes the government provision
of education, healthcare and other training programs.
While the provision of education for youth and training programs for the labour force is relatively easy, healthcare requires a lot of thought and planning on the part of the governments. Healthcare is an important factor of the quality of life of people in different countries. The citizens of every country require healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, etc. and most countries have such amenities in abundance. However, problems arise when people are not able to make use of such services in spite of their availability. This is where the need of healthcare is highlighted and where newer ideas and policies need to be formulated.
One aspect of ensuring that everyone gets healthcare services is to provide everyone with health insurance. In the field of insurance, the people are required to purchase an insurance plan and comply with the timely payments to continue receiving benefits. The health insurances can basically be divided into insurance provided by private firms such as Aviva, Allianz, etc. and those provided by the government. This simple idea of an insurer paying for one’s healthcare costs after injury or any other hospital costs might seem good enough but it has some major issues.
One, is the differences in demand for type and time of insurance coverage by people on different income levels. While the rich would like to get insurance cover for all types of illnesses and problems, the poor can only afford to insure the basic and common illnesses. This led to the government provision of health cover for the poor so that the insurance cover is more equitable. Under this scheme, usually, under this scheme, the government insures health coverage for the poorer people at affordable prices and premiums. Many governments such as India, Indonesia and South Africa, have set up separate insurance funds for the poor.
Two, the difference in costs on the basis of the person’s health condition. In theory, the insurance firm would have to pay more frequently for someone suffering from a certain long term illness such as cancer for their frequent hospital visits and other treatments. That is why the companies ask such customers to pay higher premiums for their respective insurances. This is where the poor face hardship again as many face difficulty to simply keep the household running and ensuring adequate living conditions. For them to pay higher premiums due to prerequisite health conditions is impossible. This is more severe than what appears at first sight. According to the World Bank and the IMF, poor persons are likely to be worse off in matters of health, fitness and sanitation; thereby making them more susceptible to further illnesses and higher hospital bills.
This is where the importance of providing easy, equitable healthcare coverage needs to be understood. While achieving income equality among different groups in society is a daunting task, providing basic, affordable healthcare for the masses isn’t impossible. All this requires appropriate government intervention. The governments around the world have the role of looking after the welfare of its citizens and equitable healthcare is not a bad place to start. However, a common national insurance program would be extremely expensive to formulate and implement, and insuring large populations such as those of India and China would also be inefficient and there can be large loopholes for corruption and other mismanagement issues.
Hence, a more efficient option, like the one promoted by President Obama, would be to allow persons to purchase their own insurance but prevent illness discrimination (high premiums) by providing a uniform structure for the insurance firms. By installing such a setup, the middle classes/working class and the high income groups who can afford to purchase their own insurance and can adequately pay the premiums will be protected from any potential insurance fraud and unfair practice, and the poor can be provided with insurance at subsidised rates, by either the government or by insurance companies.
Besides protecting the poor and the welfare of the society as a whole, a secure, government led healthcare setup will ensure the jobs of persons employed in the medical sector. There are more than 140,000 people employed in the US alone and it accounts for more than 10% of GDP for most countries, according to the World Bank. Therefore, setting up a public healthcare system can provide for a growing domestic product and lead to faster development of medical infrastructure and technology. Such developments and inventions can, as countries such as UAE have shown, lead to medical tourism, thereby earning more money for the country. Availability of better healthcare facilities will also lead to a better quality of life, lead to lesser infant mortality rate and longer life span by either preventing diseases or curing them.
It is not easy to realise this though. Setting up a uniform healthcare system for all the citizens require large spending on the part of the government, which is only possible by raising taxes, which in turn is unpopular. This is one of the major reasons why many countries have not been able to initiate similar programs, as heavy expenditures do not fit into short term government plans. Even if the government has the funds to launch such a program, it would require numerous tweaks and amendments to fit the country most efficiently and fulfil all the healthcare needs of the people. This is where the World Bank and the IMF can be helpful. Such organisations have the finances and the expertise to provide infant economies and developing nations with means to initiate such programs and set up incentives for governments to take steps in improving the quality of life and health security.
The passing of the Affordable Care Act in the USA is a great example of government provision of aid to the people with the aim of preventing discrimination and providing healthcare to all at affordable costs.
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