Roberto Martínez
Director General
OECD for Mexico and Latin America
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View from the Top

Comprehensive Public Policies Needed for Mexico's Improvement

By Alessa Flores | Tue, 12/10/2019 - 17:30

Q: What conclusions can policymakers and healthcare institutions derive from the OECD’s report Mexico, Health at Glance 2019?

A: This year’s report focuses on the cost-effectiveness of investment in the healthcare sector, which likely will surpass GDP growth in almost all OECD member countries within the next 15 years. The OECD’s health expenditure per capita will rise at an annual average rate of around 2.7 percent to reach an average 10.2 percent of GDP in 2030. If we compare the tendencies among our member countries, the US has the highest dedicated percentage of GDP to healthcare at around 19 percent, which puts it above Switzerland, which dedicated 12.2 percent, and heavily contrasts with Mexico’s 4 percent investment in healthcare. 

One clear tendency that shaped these numbers is the ageing population, which is predominant in European and Asian countries where we specifically see employment of medical staff and healthcare professionals growing more than ever before. 

The goal of this report is to foster effective investment in healthcare, ensuring patient safety while lowering costs for both hospitals and patients. The report also exposes a variety of red lights that need to be addressed in different countries and helps governments identify vulnerabilities and strengths to better shape their strategies. In Mexico for example, the numbers related to obesity and diabetes continue to rise, which makes it difficult for the overall rates of the OECD to make a positive improvement. Mexico, however, has low numbers on things like alcohol and tobacco consumption compared with other countries, which suggests healthy habits. 

Q: How can recent changes in food labeling support the development of healthier eating habits? What other steps are necessary to reduce the obesity rate in the country?

A: Mexico has shown leadership in wanting to combat these diseases. The OECD has recognized the country’s effort, mostly because it has been a trans-sexennial policy that has been improved by the current administration. Policymakers are realizing that these diseases also reflect on the country’s productivity and the population’s health in the medium to long term. They limit opportunities for people to remain in the labor force and therefore contribute to economic growth. 

Q: What recommendation would the OECD make to Mexico’s key health actors to increase health coverage?

A: There are two important indicators that represent the biggest areas of opportunity for the country. Both in overweight and diabetes, Mexico is ranked dead last among OECD countries. The country needs better healthcare services to address such problems. One example of poor-quality care is reflected in the country having the lowest survival rate after acute myocardial infarction. This result is linked to poor-quality care given to a patient after having a heart attack. It is the same for ischemic strokes, for which survival rates in Mexico are three times lower than the average OECD results. These outcomes demonstrate Mexico’s healthcare deficiencies. 

Mexico urgently needs to stop the diabetes pandemic resulting from overweight. An integral governmental approach is needed to reach a solution that involves public policies, the healthcare and the educational systems. A focus on the latter could help to reduce infant overweight and obesity, as it would lead to better control over what children consume at schools during their basic education years. The country needs to understand the importance of an early introduction to self-care education. Mexicans become conscious of their health at a very old age, which has serious repercussions on their choices and habits.  

Q: How can the government balance public expenditure between health, social programs and education without increasing taxes or public debt? 

A: The best way is to redirect already existing resources to areas where there is more return on investment. In health, for example, the return is not measured in monetary terms but in the number of lives saved or patients helped. 

In Mexico, problems related to overweight and obesity tend to appear more often among low-income populations as limitations put them at a disadvantage when making informed choices regarding food and a balanced diet. The current administration’s goals and priorities seek to favor people in a low socioeconomic position, which can help the government to find niches of opportunity regarding strategic public expenditure under a limited budget. 

Q: How has COFECE improved competitiveness in Mexico and what public policies are needed to foster a more competitive private sector?

A: COFECE creates policies that level the field for all industry participants. Tenders are also helpful as they make for an attractive legal landscape. These two strategies ensure minimum entry barriers for new investors. Within this scenario, COFECE’s job is to eradicate corruption and collusive agreements among both public and private entities. 

Q: How attractive is healthcare against sectors like tourism and finance in terms of investment potential?

A: Since the previous administration, the Ministry of Economy has recognized pharma as a strategic sector for the Mexican economy. This sector provides the country with benefits related to the well-being of the population and it also creates jobs for skilled professionals in the manufacturing of medicines. Private investment in the pharmaceutical sector energizes the economy in different regions of the country and it has the same impact as any investment in innovation and technology in other sectors. In terms of global competitiveness, Mexico is a preferential destination for cutting-edge pharmaceutical production.  

Potential investors coming from the healthcare industry should take into account Mexico’s demographic size and strategic geographic position, given its proximity to the US, which is the largest and most integrated market for medical solutions. Similarly, USMCA presents a window of opportunity for Mexico to attract more investment in the healthcare sector. 

Q: What actions could the government take to decrease the epidemiological and infrastructure burden in Mexico?

A: IMSS has a big investment program that could be an opportunity for new hospital investment schemes to appear, following good international practices regarding infrastructure and services. The key here is to understand that the government does not have to make the whole investment on its own to have cutting-edge hospital infrastructure. Participation of the private sector is extremely important to bring these projects to fruition, although they require a clear framework for investment. 

Photo by:   Roberto Martínez
Alessa Flores Alessa Flores Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst