Achieving universal health coverage is the theme of World Health Day this year. On April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on world leaders to commit to concrete steps to advance access to healthcare for all of their citizens. While their message is addressed to governments, it’s also an appropriate time for employers to reflect on what more they could be doing to advance universal coverage for their own workers, here in the US and wherever they have operations.
The reality is that many people throughout the world do not have access to the type of healthcare needed to support healthy and productive lives. A joint WHO and World Bank Group 2017 report revealed that “at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services” and “each year, large numbers of households are being pushed into poverty because they must pay for health care out of their own pockets.” This issue is very much in the center of political debate in the U.S., where about 9% of the population lacks health insurance. While employers provide quality health coverage to over half of US citizens, gaps in coverage for part-time or contingent workers remain. Helping all workers to find a source of affordable health coverage must be a goal.
Not only is access to health care important, but access to quality healthcare is just as critical. A recent report from The Lancet Global Health Commission on High Quality Health Systems found that 8.6 million lives are lost every year in low- and middle-income countries due to lack of adequate healthcare: 3.6 million due to lack of access entirely, and an additional 5 million due to poor quality of care. Expanding health insurance to cover more people isn’t much of an accomplishment if they continue to die from treatable diseases.
Even in many developed countries, the market standard of universal health coverage varies widely. It may seem logical that supplemental health plans exclude certain services that could be accessed through the local public health system, but consider the impact of long wait times for citizens to receive certain services. For example, treatment for mental health conditions through the UK’s National Health System can take 6-18 weeks for an initial appointment.
As our working world continues to become more and more globalized, employers must recognize – and evaluate ways to address – the reality that healthcare access and quality still varies greatly around the world. Employers should consider how their health goals for their employee population truly align with the health benefits and programs provided to them in-country – and what they can do to close the gaps.
This post on global health is part of a series authored by Mercer’s Multinational Client Group which provides advice and coordinated delivery of solutions for multinational organizations.