What is Universal Health Coverage?


Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pools resources and finances to provide health care services to the world’s entire population by focusing on improving health care for citizens and reducing poverty caused by health care costs.  Universal Health Coverage can improve the health and economic well being of individuals and communities — especially those that are socially disadvantaged or vulnerable.

Universal Health Coverage is sometimes also referred to as “Universal Coverage” or “Social Health Protection.” Different countries may make different policy changes when implementing Universal Health Coverage, but it generally consists of three main principles:

  1. Reduced out of pocket spending: Three million people around the world pay out of pocket for healthcare. These people often forgo care due to their inability to pay for it. Universal Health Coverage seeks to reduce these direct payments from the individual to the provider.
  2. Repayment: Those who can afford it, contribute to pre-paid healthcare. This can come in the form of general taxes, payroll taxes, member contributions or charitable donations.
  3. Risk pooling: Universal Health Coverage works by pooling the financial risk so that the financial costs incurred when someone is sick or injured are spread throughout the entire system.

Moving Towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

Universal Health Coverage, as a goal of many countries, may become part of the post-2015 Millennial Goals sustainable development agenda. Universal Health Coverage, for the most part, means that all people who need health services will receive them when needed without undue financial hardship — this includes prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.

The United Nations, World Bank Group and World Health Organization are all in favor of UHC and are pushing that it become part of the new development plan.

Moreover, the World Bank Group has a new goal of eliminating global poverty by 2030 which can only be met if all people have fair and accessible health care.  People should not have to live in poverty in order to pay for health care.

In December of 2013, the World Bank Group and World Health Organization released a report that outlined their findings on the Universal Health Coverage.  They suggest that those receiving both health coverage and financial protection should be covered.

The World Bank Group further supports Universal Health Coverage because it will ultimately improve health outcomes, reduce financial risk and improve equity. However, they point out that each country will have it’s own unique path to achieving this goal.

The World Bank recently studied all 22 countries that provide Universal Health Coverage in addition to the state of Massachusetts, who has had health coverage for six years. These studies provide tools and implementation plans that can be adopted by other countries and states.

To find more information on the World Bank study series go to:

Lisa Toole

Sources: UHC Forward, World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank Group, CNN
Photo: MSH