By Paola Testori Coggi, Director General for Health and Consumers, European Commission
The European Commission adopted its Social Investment Package for Growth and Cohesion on 20th February 2013. As highlighted in the Commission paper on Investing in Health included in the package, health is an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The paper recommends reforming health systems to ensure the twin aims of providing access to high quality healthcare and using public resources more efficiently. It follows on from the 2013 Annual Growth Survey, which recognizes the contribution of health for a job-rich recovery and recommends reforming health systems to ensure their cost-effectiveness and sustainability.
Reflecting that health is a value in itself and also a growth-friendly type of expenditure, the Commission paper on ‘Investing in Health’ covers three main elements:
Investing in sustainable health systems
Health systems in Europe are at the core of its high level of social protection and they are a cornerstone of the European social market economy. The constraints linked to the economic crisis, coupled with more structural changes in demography and the types of diseases affecting populations in Europe, reinforce the necessity to reform and modernize those systems. But decision-makers must avoid the lure of short-term false savings. The EU can help Member States by supporting the reforms, for instance by improving cost-efficiency through sound innovation and by developing the tools to better assess the performance of health systems. Efficiency gains can be made by, for example, reducing unnecessary hospitalization and use of specialists, strengthening primary care, encouraging the use of less expensive equivalent (generic) drugs, and using health technology assessment to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of health technologies as a basis for decision making.
Health as an investment in human capital
Health can boost economic growth by enabling people to remain active longer and in better health. The health status of the population influences labor market participation and productivity. Investing in the health of the population also helps limit future costs related to the treatment of preventable diseases and means investing in an efficient health workforce.
Public health policy should focus on disease prevention and health promotion in order to reduce the human and economic burdens of chronic diseases. The European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing is developing interesting examples of actions for helping people to lead healthier, more active and independent lives while ageing.
Investing to reduce inequalities in health
Health outcomes vary considerably within and between Member States. Even larger health inequalities exist for some vulnerable groups such as some ethnic minorities and some migrant groups. Investing in reducing health inequalities contributes to social cohesion and breaks the vicious spiral of poor health contributing to, and resulting from, poverty and exclusions. Health inequalities represent not only a waste of human potential, but also a huge potential economic loss. Universal access to healthcare services can help reducing poverty and fighting social exclusion. An intersectoral action – ‘health in all policies’ – is required to address the social determinants of health.
The paper’s main message is that cost-effective spending, structural reforms and sound innovation in health systems can bring efficiency gains and secure better health outcomes.