Dodwell in iSOM Jakarta - Post 7

December 08, 2012

The focus on health in the ‘Sustainable and Inclusive Growth’ agenda

Indonesia’s iSOM agenda was mostly familiar and expected – but a few issues came out of the blue from an ABAC point of view.

Perhaps the most interesting of these was the intention focus on health issues as part of APEC’s “inclusiveness” agenda.

As far as I am aware, health issues have attracted negligible attention in ABAC over the past five years, but this may be about to change – and that is probably for the good.

Our Indonesian hosts plan to focus on two health related issues in particular: health financing; and the damaging impact on economic productivity of a poor health environment. Both of these should be of keen interest to ABAC.

I suspect ABAC Members will be loath to get tangled up in the political controversies linked with the broad issue of healthcare finance. Barak Obama did that, and look at the headaches that gave him! But there may be one specific area we could contribute – like health insurance. Many of the region’s economies are wrestling with the challenge of how to ensure that ordinary working people have reliable access to high quality health care, and insurance cover sits at the heart of this. Whether healthcare is to be provided by public sector or private sector hospitals and clinics, there are only two equitable ways of funding this provision: taxes, or insurance-covered financing. Only the private sector has the technical knowledge needed to structure insurance arrangements that can provide equitable health cover for a community’s population, so if APEC economies opt not to rely wholly on tax-funded health care arrangements, then private sector input on insurance arrangements is critical.

The second issue – the impact of poor health on productivity – is obvious, critical, and almost entirely neglected: in communities plagued by ill health, and with limited health care cover, workers are going to need more time off work while they are sick, and even when at work they are likely to be less productive than workers that are in strapping good health. In short, there are clear business benefits in workers being healthy. Large global multinationals (most of them in the US) have realized that it is worth spending quite large sums of money keeping their staff healthy – and that this investment pays dividends in terms of higher productivity, fewer “sick leave” days, and reduced staff turnover. After mulling these issues through Thursday’s iSOM Symposium, I wondered whether ABAC might not valuably embrace these issues. It strikes me there is a potentially fascinating and important contribution to be made here.

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