Health insurance holds key to universal coverage

Health insurance is the key to universal healthcare

Many countries are unsure how to finance health insurance schemes, yet insurance is shown to improve access to healthcare.

A study from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown countries in Africa and Asia could achieve universal health care through health insurance schemes. The report, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, found community and social health insurance schemes improved access to healthcare by reducing the need for payment at the point of delivery.

The study also showed people who belong to insurance schemes are more likely to access health care than non-members. Today, however, many low- and middle-income countries are not making the most of such schemes.

Universal health coverage means that all people can use the health services they need while being protected against the financial hardship often associated with paying for them. In 2011, WHO’s 193 Member States committed themselves to reforming their health financing systems to move towards universal health coverage, but progress is patchy.

Many countries are unsure how to finance health insurance schemes, according to the reports authors. Study findings suggest that pre-paid schemes, such as health insurance, provide one solution to this problem. “Our study found that certain health insurance schemes, particularly community or social health insurance, hold untapped potential for low and middle-income countries,” said Dr Ernst Spaan from the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands.

WHO health financing expert Joe Kutzin agreed that health insurance schemes can promote progress towards achieving universal coverage “as long as careful attention is given to specific design features, such as government subsidies to ensure that the poor are included in them, otherwise schemes can actually harm progress towards this goal.”