World map
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim spoke in Tokyo last week on how to promote economic growth in developing countries.  Kim says that the most crucial factor in poverty alleviation is universal health coverage. “Anyone who has provided health care to poor people knows that even tiny out-of-pocket charges can drastically reduce their use of needed services,” he said. “This is both unjust and unnecessary.”

According to the World Heath Organization, 100 million people fall into poverty each year due to medical expenses.  Kim believes implementing universal health insurance coverage in every country could help end extreme poverty by 2030.

In May 2013, Kim announced his support of universal health insurance coverage to the 66th World Health assembly saying, “We have the opportunity to unite global health and the fight against poverty in action focused on clear goals.”  These goals include decreasing child and maternal mortality, developing a monitoring framework for universal coverage, improving health education and performing scientific research on delivery techniques.

Last year the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution urging countries to eliminate point-of-service fees in order to make health care more accessible.  Now, Kim pushes developing countries to shift towards a universal model.  Japan has been providing universal coverage since 1961, when many thought it was not financially possible.  In Japan, a patient can pay a maximum of 30% of medical bills while the rest is paid through social insurance programs and taxes.

In the U.S., Kim has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, saying his only concern is that it doesn’t go far enough to expand access to medical care. Kim told those at the conference that universal healthcare is “one of the best things you can do to spur immediate and long-term economic growth … and one way of reducing inequality (which can) slow economic growth.”

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Aljazeera, The World Bank, Money News, Think Progress