How Fintech Can Help Break The Health Poverty Trap
There has never been a better argument for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) than the devastating global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. As widespread infectious disease outbreaks are increasing in frequency and the number of people with chronic conditions continues to rise, we must find new ways to ensure that everyone is able to access and pay for the health services they need. As Covid-19 has demonstrated, no one is safe from health threats until the entire population is protected.
WHO estimates that more than 100 million people around the world are pushed into poverty every year because of healthcare costs. In most countries, the process of paying for health coverage is not just costly, but complicated, stressful, and time consuming. If exorbitant prescription drug prices and out of pocket expenses were not already enough, healthcare consumers must also navigate payment systems known for their obscurity and susceptibility to error. We only need to look at the recent example of Americans who are being incorrectly billed by their insurers for Covid-19 vaccines that are meant to be free. An error that could have grave consequences if it deters someone from seeking out a vaccine. These systems not only overwhelm current users, but also discourages new users from finding the coverage that is right for them.
Fintech brings new and improved digital financial service models into the healthcare space. Fintech companies are leveraging powerful innovations such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to eliminate the inefficiencies and knowledge gaps that exist in our current systems. This is the topic of a new whitepaper, “Breaking the health-poverty trap: How fintech can improve access to healthcare in Asia” co-authored by ACCESS Health International initiative Fintech for Health and the MetLife Foundation.
Fintech for Health represents a call to action to bring the financial and healthcare sectors together in service of meeting UHC goals. The population that is unbanked or underbanked is disproportionately low-income and is the same population that both financial inclusion and UHC policies seek to support.
The development goals of UHC and universal financial access are essentially the same, to ensure that people are financially sound while pursuing both a better quality of life and health. The financial services sector has a direct and important role to play in creating financial solutions for healthcare.
The best solutions will be bundled, integrated, and comprehensive. Fintech can be used to deliver three types of solutions: information, healthcare services, and financing. Information may include health education, doctor appointment scheduling, and transparent pricing. Examples of healthcare services would be telehealth consultations and e-pharmacies. Financial products and services may include personalized insurance marketplaces, micro insurance plans, claims processing, digital savings and lending, and crowdfunding. Paying for healthcare out of pocket is one of the biggest drivers of exorbitant, unpredictable costs, almost any form of prepayment through a plan is preferable.
Fintech has and continues to make remarkable contributions toward increasing access and usage of financial services among low-income people. In just the past six years, 1.2 billion people worldwide have gained access to bank and mobile money accounts due to digital financial technology. Access to bank and mobile money accounts makes it easier for governments to distribute payments in a timely manner to pay for healthcare costs.
Healthcare costs drive 65 mil people across Asia into extreme poverty every year. Bringing together Fintech and healthcare will make it easier to choose, save for, and pay for high-quality health services.