Universal healthcare: An affordable dream?

Universal healthcare may often result in long waiting times for patients.

Access to healthcare should not depend on where people live or how they live

By Dr GSK Velu

Universal healthcare, also known as universal health coverage, stands for a healthcare system that provides healthcare and financial protection to all the citizens. It is the outcome of the World Health Organization (WHO) constitution of 1948 which acknowledged healthcare as a fundamental human right. Following that, the 1978 Declaration of ‘Health for All’ made the availability of primary healthcare as the way to achieve health for all by the year 2000.  “Universal health coverage is the single most powerful concept that public health has to offer,” said Dr Margaret Chan, seventh director-general of the WHO.

The year was 2008 when the WHO called for a renewed focus on primary healthcare with the launch of World Health Report. As of 2009, 58 countries have legislation mandating universal healthcare and attained >90% health insurance coverage. In 2010, the WHO analysed and commissioned a report on universal health coverage which is now serving as the axle to several sustainable development goals and for the notion that leaves no one behind irrespective of their financial status and geographical 

At its core, universal healthcare focuses on three important things: equity in access to health services, quality of health services, and financial risk protection. In short, universal healthcare brings the hope of a better healthcare for hundreds of millions of people, transcending poverty.

The primary objective is raising sufficient resources and removing financial barriers to access, especially for the poor. “All countries, at all stages of development, could take immediate steps to move towards universal coverage,” says the WHO. The benefits of the universal healthcare include:

Equal access to healthcare

Improve public health

Less paper work

Encourage entrepreneurship

Boost economy

Universal Healthcare focuses on equity in access to health services,quality of health services, and financial risk protection.

However, establishing universal healthcare also has its fair share of disadvantages and some hurdles. Under this concept, everyone is entitled to receive care. This not only increases the number of people in need but also sees a decline in terms of quality care as it doesn’t contribute to the number of doctors available. Also, this is not a free care. Funding must come from somewhere. Typically, this means a rise in taxes.

Due to increase in demand, this type of healthcare system may often result in long waiting times for patients. Not everyone may receive the type of care they actually need. This care system directly depends on the economical status of the country endorsing it and this may backfire on the citizens who are in need of quality care. Several methods such as budgeting, controlled distribution, service restriction and price setting should be given importance to make this dream a reality.

The disadvantages of this system include:

Long waiting time

The policies need proper rationing

Indirectly, this is not a free care

Stalls innovation, as there is no competition

Increase in government’s debt

However, with some modifications, universal healthcare can be transformed into an ideal healthcare system with a potential to save millions of lives. Many countries follow the partnership of public-private systems as a tool to deliver the universal healthcare for their citizens. This can be done effectively in all the countries, even the underdeveloped nations by establishing mutual agreements with other countries and leading global healthcare players. Universal healthcare gives you financial protection at times of adversity. It can be a system that helps you when you need it the most!

Dr GSK Velu is chairman and managing director,Trivitron Healthcare.



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