Health Markets: 20 Years of Progress and A Look to the Future

Global health leaders, funders, academics and policy makers met during December to discuss health markets and their future in light of a global push towards universal healthcare coverage. A resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in mid-December called for the provision of universal healthcare. The Washington Post reported that a 2010 WHO report on financing universal health coverage led “60 middle- and low-income countries requested technical assistance and advice to implement universal health coverage.”

Government-led universal healthcare access will require engagement with both the private and public sectors. “Engaging with health markets is going to be critical for governments in the future, especially given the recent UN resolution,” said  Future Health Systems (FHS) CEO Sara Bennett.

The meeting, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation at its Bellagio Center, provided an outlet for discussion regarding the development of health markets over the past 20 years and an opportunity to define the trends shape health markets going forward. A report that came out of the meeting described the trajectory of health markets, the existing gaps and areas that need to be addressed going forward.

“Twenty years ago global health actors were just beginning to appreciate the significant role that private providers play,” wrote the report authors. ” We now have a lot of knowledge about the size of the health market, the heterogeneity of providers, the blurred boundaries between public and private providers, the extensive informal private sector and the critical role of consumers in driving health markets.”

The health market’s growth over the past two decades can be attributed to a confluence of factors including overall economic growth, the development of technologies, new partnerships and the cuts in government services in some parts of the world. However, gaps in service remain. Most social health enterprises, points out the report, are unable to operate without financial support from development partners.

The report calls attention to challenges presently faced by health markets ranging from poor health data to the need to develop better service provider networks. It concludes by issuing the following recommendations:

(i) work be done with a small group of countries to establish systems to collect basic data on health markets, and to develop ways to institutionalize such systems into locally relevant policy and management processes; (ii)  proposals be solicited to support research on building theory and empiric information on health market systems; and (iii) a challenge fund be created to encourage the development of effective regulatory approaches, bringing together different key market actors within countries to develop bundles of regulatory interventions, the information systems to monitor and evaluate their application, and support for rapid learning cycles that enable the application of emerging knowledge. The group intends to pursue some of these discussions with HANSHEP, a group of development agencies and countries that seeks to improve performance of the non-state sector in delivering health care for the poor.

Read the full report here.