100 Million People Impoverished by Medical Bills Annually

The United States isn’t the only country struggling under the weight of health care costs. Governments around the world — even those where health services have been admirable — are seeing costs soar and resources stretched to the limit.

In countries where individuals pay directly for services at point of delivery, health bills are pushing 100 million people into poverty every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

One reason for skyrocketing health care costs is that between 20 and 40 percent of health spending is wasted, depriving many people of badly needed care. In some countries, half to two-thirds of total government spending on health is used for hospital care; globally, almost $300 billion is lost annually to hospital-related inefficiencies; and in some places, medicine prices are up to 67 times the international average price.

This year’s world health report gives governments guidance on ways to finance health care. Taking evidence from all over the world, it shows how all countries can adjust health financing so more people get the health care they need, and encourages the international community to support low and middle-income countries’ efforts to increase health coverage.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO:

“No one in need of health care should have to risk financial ruin as a result. The report sets out a stepwise approach. We encourage every country to act on this and do at least one thing to improve health financing and increase health coverage over the coming year.”

WHO highlights three key areas where change can happen:

Raise more funds for health
If the governments of the world’s 49 poorest countries each allocated 15 percent of state spending to health, they could raise an additional $15 billion per year. In many cases, there is scope for governments to allocate more money for health. (In 2000, African heads of state committed to spend 15 percent of government funds on health. So far three countries have achieved this.)

More money can also be generated through more efficient tax collection. A review of 22 low-income countries shows that they could raise $1.42 billion through a 50 percent increase in tobacco tax.

The international community has a key role to play. An average of $44 per capita is required to ensure access to even a small set of quality health services in low income countries, but 31 countries spend less than $35 per person on health. If all donors joined Norway and others that have kept their promise to allocate 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to official development assistance, three million additional lives could be saved in lower income countries by 2015.

Raise money more fairly
Remove the key financial barriers to obtaining care. Countries like Japan that manage to ensure health services are available to the entire population have done so by reducing dependence on direct, out-of-pocket payments and increasing prepayment, generally through insurance or taxes or a mix of the two. The funds raised are then pooled, so that it is not just those who get sick who bear the financial burden. This is the model used in many European countries, with Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Rwanda, Thailand, and Turkey all making significant progress in the last decade — along with Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan and the Republic of Moldova.

Spend money more effectively
Smarter spending could increase global health coverage between 20 and 40 percent. The report identifies ten areas where greater efficiencies are possible. One of these is the purchasing of medicines. (France has adopted a strategy of using generic drugs wherever possible, saving almost $2 billion in 2008.) More efficient spending on hospitals could boost productivity by 15 percent.

“Access to basic health care is a fundamental human right, as stated in the WHO Constitution, and not just a privilege to be enjoyed in a few wealthy societies. But this right hardly matches the reality. In many countries, the rich receive all the health care they need, while the poor are left to fend for themselves.

This situation needs to be corrected. It can be corrected, as this report shows. And it is being corrected in a growing number of low- and middle-income countries. As documented in the report, any country that gets the policies right can move towards universal coverage, often with remarkable improvements in health outcomes.” – Dr. Margaret Chan

Download the full report: World Health Report

Photo: copyright photoXpress.com


Grace Adams
Grace Adams8 years ago

We need to get more efficient about health care spending. Making good use of those electronic health care records would help.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle8 years ago

I'm an R.N. Health care is an area that should be a human right, not a money-making business. The bottom-line in businesses is to earn as much money as possible, and that doesn't jibe with giving health care. Denying care increases profits, so ANY ONE who says that insurance companies care, have a heart, is LYING. A healthy citizenry is a productive one, but most people, companies, countries don't look to the long-range, but only the short-term profits, and then we all lose, ultimately. Common sense is in short supply.

Sue M.
Sue Matheson8 years ago


Sue H.
Sue H8 years ago

Well jeeze, what a grim report.

Marie W.
Marie W8 years ago

Sick continuation and health care are 2 different things and most allopathic medicine is designed to keep one sick and always needing drugs and doctors.

Roger R.
Past Member 8 years ago

I don't subscribe to DENIAL.COM ! I'm going to die someday and the realization of that in their lives is profound for many. One must accept that medical solutions can only do so much, and the reality must be faced, with honor, respect and gratitude. When your life becomes a nightmare of successive challenges and roadblocks.....look up and ASK for HELP....and that help just might give you the "eternal dream".

Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

It's not just in impoverished countries. Even here, poor or working class people are going broke in medical costs. And even with that, there is not much medical staff will do to help you if you are sick with no money. So if the payments don't kill you, the lack of treatment will.

Angela M.
Angela M8 years ago

I've had health insurance for 2 years now, and this is the first time that I've had any since I was in school and still on my parents plan. Having insurance gives you a sense of relief and I think that everyone deserves this, I hadn't been to a doctor in 4 years ever since graduating from college. Since getting my insurance I've been able to see a doctor for routine exams, check-ups and blood work, I am totally satisfied with my primary care physician she is fantastic, very easy to talk to and has simple suggestions for everyday life, I want everyone to be able to have this kind of care. Thanks for the article.

Priscilla G.
Priscilla G8 years ago

I live in Australia and tho I do not have need medications I know of many who do and due to the cost are suffering financially. There needs to be a way that these medicines can be cheaper especially for the low income group. Governments around the World need to address this growing problem.

Lin Penrose
Lin Penrose8 years ago

Look at the Millions of people in this sad situation- me included. Then look at the over population numbers regarding the healthcare and thousands of other resources in this world. We are too many for too little, in too many respects. It (healthcare) is becoming a population reduction factor, but not planned. If commonsense, like simple math, logic & planning Were involved, we wouldn't be facing this and other current world crisis's.