Universal health coverage makes perfect economic sense

health_insurance_thumbnailAre there economic benefits of universal health coverage? A recent study published in The Lancet, led by Lawrence H. Summers, President Emeritus at Harvard University, sheds light on why universal health coverage makes economic sense.

The Economists’ Declaration on Universal Health Coverage is a global coalition of 267 economists representing 44 countries.

The coalition calls for the prioritization of universal health coverage as an “essential pillar of economic development.”

Notable signatories include Nobel Laureates Joseph E. Stiglitz, Kenneth Arrow, Alvin Roth, Vernon L. Smith and Christopher Pissarides; as well as the current and former chief economists of the World Bank, Kaushik Basu and Justin Yifu Lin.

They proclaim that giving people access to essential health services without having to struggle financially is “right, smart and affordable”.

“Universal health coverage isn’t only the right thing to do – it’s also the economically smart thing to do,” said Lawrence H. Summers. “The data clearly show that health is essential to eradicating extreme poverty and promoting economic growth. I launched this Declaration to urge world leaders to act on that evidence.”

The study cites “considerable evidence” supporting the notion that universal health coverage should be a priority on the agenda of all policymakers across the globe.

Why should universal health coverage be a priority?

According to the study, health improvements were responsible for almost 25 percent of full income growth in low- and middle-income nations over the last decade. The economic benefits of investing in health care are estimated to be 10 times more than the costs. It would also lessen the impact of health shocks in communities. For example, the effects of Ebola would have been significantly less if there were public health systems across Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

“With nearly half the world’s population now living in a country advancing toward universal health coverage, the case for UHC is strong and growing stronger, but there is still work to be done to ensure more equitable access to lifesaving services for even the poorest and most vulnerable people,” said Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation.

“The Rockefeller Foundation convened this Declaration by the world’s leading economists to demonstrate the financial benefits and feasibility of UHC—and with their resounding support, it is now time to invest the resources needed to make health for all a reality.”

“We are at a juncture of history where the world can afford basic health coverage for all,” said Kaushik Basu, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank. “Given economic growth, donor country commitments and new mechanisms to raise local funds, countries, no matter at what stage of development, can provide universal health coverage.”

“Healthy people are the engine of a country’s economic growth. Universal health coverage ensures that engine is constantly fueled,” said Linah K. Mohohlo, the Governor of the Bank of Botswana. “Our ability to build the planet we deserve depends on governments and global leaders stepping up to deliver on the promise of health for all people.”

“As the gap between rich and poor keeps growing, we must prioritize policies that work to counter inequality,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University. “Universal health coverage does just that, ensuring everyone has access to health care, without which they cannot succeed, and strengthening economies as a result.”

New York lawmakers are currently considering a single-payer health care system.