Counting the Cost

Can the world afford universal healthcare?

Can the UN reach universal healthcare for all by 2030 and how can technology help?

The United States leads the way as the world moves towards spending $10 trillion a year on healthcare by 2022.

The US spends more than any other nation on health expenditures. But more than half a million people turn to bankruptcy in the US because they are unable to afford their medical bills. And more than 27 million people are without medical insurance.

But, according to Andrew Farlow from the University of Oxford the best in the US is actually “the best of the best globally”.

“If you need top-quality treatment of some sort or other, it can often be found in the US. But, one of the things to take out of this story, is actually that for relatively lower levels of money you can actually achieve pretty high success,” Farlow says.

“So one of the problems with highlighting the huge amounts of expenditure in the US is, it kind of sends a signal that you need to spend lots and lots and as you know there are big pushes to create universal healthcare coverage, basic package, and you can actually achieve a lot with a lot less in the US.”

In the poorest nations, the weakest don’t have access to even rudimentary treatments. Yet, it is a goal of the United Nations to “achieve universal healthcare for all” by the year 2030.

The outcome of this goal could mean the aversion of nearly 100 million premature deaths, as well as 20 million deaths from non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Other outcomes could be the increase of life expectancy rates anywhere between 3.1 and 8.4 years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that it would cost about $58 per person, per year to achieve universal healthcare in all low and middle-income countries. Approximately 85 percent of the total cost can be met by domestic resources, according to WHO. And in the poorest nations, a funding gap of more than $50bn would need to be filled through international aid.

“A large chunk of the initiative to create these programmes for universal healthcare coverage is to make it that people, in advance, in many cases, contribute. So there are schemes in which even very poor people put something every now and then and that gives them some sort of automatic right to some sort of access,” Farlow explains.

“So it’s not just rich people paying money, it is richer countries paying towards the very poorest for a period of time.”

How technology can help achieve universal healthcare

With the trillions spent on healthcare, it should come as no surprise that investors are trying to crack the industry with new tech-related products.

The global digital healthcare market is expected to hit $504bn by 2025, according to global market insights.

Juniper Research estimates the health tech wearable market, which includes smart watch trackers, could be worth $60bn by 2023.

George Davies, partner at the venture firm Hambro Perks, points out that change and innovation within the global healthcare system does take time but there have been advancements within the industry.

“I definitely think that over the long term we will see absolute transformation particularly as you see large business like Google and Apple entering the space as well as new start-ups and more established players who are now spending more and more time thinking about changes to the system,” says Davies.

Ada Health is a Berlin-based company that is developing a healthcare app aimed to reach parts of the world where the healthcare system feels like a lottery and there is a shortage of doctors.

“Ada works …. very much like a WhatsApp chat with a trusted family doctor that you have access to 24/7 except that in this case the family doctor is not a human but it is artificial intelligence that supports you in finding out what is wrong with you and what you should be doing next,” Daniel Nathrath, CEO of Ada Health, tells Counting the Cost.