As healthcare inflation and rationing continue to burden governments in wealthier countries, this new report from ECIPE suggests a means of relief which could simultaneously help developing countries – trade.
This may hardly seem like a revolutionary idea – most industries have been reaping the benefits of trade for years. Yet healthcare remains conspicuously guarded from such benefits.
Ring-fenced by national governments, healthcare is too often restrained by state monopolies. However, recent rulings (such as by the European Court of Justice) are stipulating that people have a right to be treated outside nationalised systems, and even outside national borders.
The cost savings are obvious. A hip operation in Thailand costs one-sixth of the cost in the UK. If just 10% of US patients went abroad for just 15 types of treatment, the US economy could save $1.5bn a year, including travel costs.
Developing countries are supportive. In 2006 alone Singapore treated 500,000 foreign patients; India treated 600,000; and Thailand around 1.2 million.
Yet while countries such as Gambia, Jamaica, Malawi and South Africa have committed to healthcare liberalisation in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), most wealthier countries remain uncommitted. Their governments should ignore the siren voices of protectionism, and liberalise their healthcare for the good of patients everywhere.