The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, made the economic case for health care coverage on Friday, pointing out that making health care more accessible is “crucial” for combating poverty and spurring economic development. In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Kim is pushing to dramatically reduce the number of people around the world who are impoverished by medical expenses.
Each year, an estimated 100 million people slip into poverty because they cannot afford their expensive medical care. The World Bank and WHO hope to cut that number down to 50 million by 2020, and all the way down to zero by 2030, by encouraging more countries to implement universal health care programs.
“Universal health coverage is financially feasible and makes good economic sense,” WHO director general Margaret Chan explained on Friday. “It is the ultimate expression of fairness. People are not left behind to die.”
Although extending health care to additional people can seem like an insurmountable expense for nations to take on, Kim pointed to Japan — which implemented universal health care in 1961 — as an example of the value of this type of investment. “The fact is that Japan committed to universal health coverage when its per capita income was not at the highest levels and many people thought it could not afford it,” Kim noted. Economists believe that move ended up strengthening the country’s middle class. The World Bank is partnering with Japan to help developing nations work toward universal health care for their own populations.
Kim, who was nominated by President Obama last year to head the World Bank, has long been a pioneer in the health care sector. He co-founded a nonprofit organization to combat tuberculosis around the world, served as the director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at WHO, and launched a research program at Dartmouth University to study the most effective ways to deliver health care. He’s widely acclaimed for his work in global health and development.
Here in the United States, Obamacare represented a big step toward Kim’s goal of reducing the number of uninsured people struggling to pay their bills. Kim has commended the health reform law for expanding access to coverage, as well as expressed concern that it doesn’t go far enough to make sure that insurance is affordable for every single individual. Indeed, the U.S. has more work to do over the next several years in order to meet the World Bank’s new goal. Because Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion isn’t being implemented in every state, for example, five million of the poorest Americans still don’t have any access to affordable insurance.