Need great health care? Run for the border!

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I meant to blog on this yesterday, but other topics drove it out of my mind before Amanda’s post reminded me. Ezra had a great entry about the progress Mexico has made in recent years by working toward universal health care, with a focus on up-front, preventative treatment. Here’s the money quote from the first article he mentioned:

Special initiatives to address health threats such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and child mortality over the past 5 years are showing results: the number of cases of malaria have dropped by 60%, six times more people are receiving antiretroviral therapy, TB mortality has fallen by 30%, and Mexico is only one of seven countries on track to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 — the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG4). The reforms have also led to a 17% reduction in the proportion of male teenagers who smoke, a 17% increase in the use of mammography, and a 32% increase in the number of pap smear tests over the past 5 years.

All of that is just a rest stop on Mexico’s road to universal health care, an ambitious goal they set in 2003. They’ve given themselves just 7 years to get there. That’s incredible, and the second story Ezra links to shows how they’ll pull it off:

Public and private spending on medical care has risen to $50 billion from $40 billion, and the government has built 1,700 new health facilities, from small rural centers to large specialty hospitals. They have hired an army of health practitioners to take care of the people who sign onto the plan.

So far, 22 million Mexicans have. Families pay an annual premium from $65 to $1,000, according to their income level, but poor families, the bottom 20 percent in terms of income, are exempt. “The idea of the premium is not to make it a paternal handout but to have people comply with a number of preventive measures,” Frenk said. That includes annual physicals, childhood immunizations and “responsibility in promoting their own good health,” he said.

Preventative medicine is more cost-effective than waiting for somebody to get sick (something Sen. Jeff Bingaman mentioned while in Silver City last week).

Here in New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson pushed legislation that improves childhood immunization, put more health clinics in schools, and guaranteed health insurance for children under the age of five. All admirable, but not quite where we need to be.
Health Action New Mexico has been pushing for a statewide health care initiative for years. The group’s legislation doesn’t even establish universal care — rather, it maps out a three-year plan to look at universal coverage for New Mexicans. If we can’t figure out a way to do it, and do it effectively, nothing happens. But we can’t even get that passed.

Meanwhile, by 2010, every citizen in Mexico will have access to universal health care.

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