In Talk on UHC, NY Senator Raises Concern Over Commoditization of Healthcare
New York State Senator Jose Gustavo Rivera
New York State Senator Jose Gustavo Rivera

A New York lawmaker warned fellow parliamentarians on Wednesday to “stay as far away from the private sector as you can” when it comes to healthcare.

“The main issue in the United States is that healthcare is commodified,” said New York State Senator Jose Gustavo Rivera. “It is true, the best healthcare is available in the US – that is true if you can afford it. But the majority of Americans cannot [afford it] and instead organize their entire existence around how to find the best insurance.

“And I put insurance in quotation marks because having insurance does not guarantee care,” he continued. “The commoditization of healthcare is the way to ensure that the people in your country do not get the care they need and deserve.”

Less than half of Americans (40%) rate the quality of healthcare in in their country as very good or good, according to a new survey released by the Beryl Institute – Ipsos PX Pulse.

Moreover, despite improvements in access to health insurance following the roll out of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, roughly 30 million Americans of all ages had no health insurance in 2021, according to a report by MoneyGeek.

‘Investments in health … are key’

Rivera spoke at the conclusion of Wednesday’s UNITE Global Summit session on universal health coverage (UHC). The session was hosted by UHC2030 and focused on case studies from throughout the world for how to implement UHC.

“UHC means that everyone, everywhere, can access the services they need without facing financial burden,” said UHC2030 Steering Committee Co-chair Gabriela Cuevas Barron from Mexico. “Investments in health and healthier populations are key for wider economic and social benefits.”

UHC2030 Steering Committee Co-chair Gabriela Cuevas Barron
UHC2030 Steering Committee Co-chair Gabriela Cuevas Barron

Examples of efforts to roll out UHC were given from Tanzania, Chile and Zambia.

In Tanzania, for example, a UHC bill was supposed to be deliberated on in November of this year. However, according to MP Neema Lugangira, discussions were pushed off after concerns with some of the nuances of the bill were raised during public hearings.

“We had several discussions and felt there were concrete issues with the bill So, we, as the parliamentary committee, withdrew the bill for improvement and consideration in the areas raised,” Lugangira said. “We were hoping that by the time I would be standing here, perhaps the bill would have been passed. But in an interesting turn of events, we were able to make sure the government takes the bill back and improves on it before it is tabled in parliament.

“This shows the power parliamentarians have to understand the issues and advise the government better,” she concluded.

‘Still some work to do’

Zambia, on the other hand, already rolled out the first stages of a universal health coverage plan, explained MP Givem Katuta in her remarks.

The initial stage of the UHC plan includes coverage of primary care, said Katuta. But she noted that the bill was moved forward quickly between 2017 and 2018 and the country knows there is still some work to do.

For example, one challenge is that the plan uses the National Health Insurance Management Authority, which works well for people who are employed but creates a gap for those who do not have some kind of job. In addition, while people in urban areas can really take advantage of the plan, including getting care at private hospitals of their choice, this has not yet been the case for those in rural areas.

“We are on the right track,” Katuta said. “We are looking forward to other stakeholders coming through to spread its wings to rural areas. The goal is to have full UHC by 2030.”

Chile’s representative, Marta Bravo, called on the World Health Organization to support the creation of “harmonized and unified criteria” for universal health coverage .

“WHO has a powerful voice that is listened to by our government,” she said. “This is our opportunity to ask WHO to be active in this field.”

The UNITE Global Summit runs from Dec. 5-7, 2022. Click here for full coverage.
Reporting for this series was supported by UNITE Parliamentarians for Global Health.

Image Credits: Maayan Hoffman, Screenshot.

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