How Many Countries Have Universal Health Care?

Universal health care policies have proven transformative in improving global health. Universal healthcare refers to an ideal situation in which everyone in a region or country has access to quality, affordable and sustainable healthcare – an injustice which currently sees hundreds of millions denied essential services or forced into poverty by mounting medical expenses. As a response, nations have passed two UN resolutions encouraging countries to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage (UHC).

UHC is a guiding principle designed to ensure everyone has access to healthcare they require without incurring out-of-pocket payments, including medical services, medicines, vaccines and essential non-communicable diseases (NCDs). UHC is an integral component of global development efforts as it fosters economic growth while simultaneously alleviating poverty; strengthening social cohesion while contributing to peace and security through uniting people around a shared commitment towards their health.

Every country takes a different approach to achieving universal health coverage; however, several key implementation principles should be observed for optimal success. These include multisectoral dialogue to set priorities and outline an equitable health benefits package; investing in equitable models of delivery of healthcare that support universal coverage; and using financing mechanisms derived from both compulsory sources as well as voluntary ones with adequate risk protection mechanisms.

The OECD’s work on UHC centers on helping countries translate their commitments to universal health coverage into action in their local communities, with particular attention paid to vulnerable groups. For this, it provides analytical and policy guidance to governments on improving their healthcare systems and expanding coverage, while strengthening advocacy campaigns while supporting policymakers’ engagement with civil society.

Attaining universal healthcare coverage (UHC) requires mobilizing domestic resources to finance universal coverage. At present, most of the world’s population pays out-of-pocket for healthcare expenses and costs are increasing rapidly. According to the OECD UHC Global Monitoring Report 2019 warning of this gap between spending on health and global development goals by 2030, and gaps that need closing.

Countries are making progress toward providing universal access to quality healthcare by employing various strategies. These range from full universal healthcare provision, single payer systems, hybrid arrangements that combine elements from both, and mandates for private insurance purchase – for example Macau offers free healthcare to all its citizens and legal residents; Singapore and Malaysia require them all to purchase private coverage – these systems may also feature government run facilities which help keep prices affordable.

Universal healthcare requires investing in our most valued resource: people. Their health impacts every other aspect of our lives from education to economic expansion; when people are healthy they are better able to participate in economic activities while their children attend school more easily, and eventually mature into productive adults.

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