Bolivia ranks #92 in a World Bank list of the world’s top economies, just 17 spots ahead of Afghanistan. But even Bolivians got universal healthcare before Americans did.
On Thursday, Venezuelan outlet Telesur reported that nearly six million Bolivians will officially be covered by a universal healthcare plan beginning in March, after President Evo Morales announced an ambitious plan to cover all uninsured citizens by going door-to-door and registering them for the program. That amounts to more than half of Bolivia’s population of 11 million people now getting health coverage.
Morales also allocated more than $200 million USD for new hospitals and medical staff to bolster the program:
Starting in March the UHS will provide all Bolivians without insurance with free, quality medical attention that currently citizens have to pay for out of pocket or take out private insurance to cover. The government says that private insurance plans and people over the age of 60 already covered by social security will not be affected by the new plan.
…The administration hopes to register Bolivia’s 5.8 million who don’t have medical coverage or insurance under the Unified Health System and says it will hire some 8,000 doctors and nurses within the next several months to care for the new members of the system.
The fact that Bolivia has universal healthcare before the United States does suggests that the excuse many politicians opposed to universal healthcare use — that it would be too expensive — doesn’t hold water. In terms of global economies, the United States ranks #1 in gross domestic product (GDP), at $19.3 trillion according to the 2017 data from the World Bank. Bolivia’s GDP in 2017 was just $37.5 billion USD, making it more than 500 times smaller than U.S. GDP.
And according to the United Nations, Bolivia’s economy is on the rise, posting four percent growth in 2018 alone. This makes Evo Morales’ socialist government the fastest-growing economy in Latin America, more than three points higher than the average growth rate of other countries in the region. The Washington Post wrote that Bolivia has been posting budget surpluses each year between 2005 and 2014 since Socialists took over the government.
Meanwhile, per capita healthcare expenditures in the U.S. are far greater than in Bolivia, with 2015 World Bank data showing that the U.S. spent $9,535 per capita on healthcare, compared to just $197.26 USD in Bolivia. While 2016 life expectancy was just 69 years for Bolivians and 78 years for Americans, Bolivia’s may very well go up as six million Bolivians will now have universal healthcare.
But in the U.S., life expectancy is dropping for the first time since World War I, mostly due to the opioid addiction crisis and a rising suicide rate. A large contributor to the suicide rate is, according to the Magazine for the Society for Science & the Public, economic circumstances like the loss of a job or health issues. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that American health insurance premiums increased in cost by 200 percent between 1999 and 2017 — the same period studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in mapping an average 30 percent increase in suicides across all 50 states.
However, the tide may be turning in favor of universal healthcare in the United States. A recent survey conducted by Politico and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University found that 68 percent of Americans support a national healthcare plan, like the Medicare for All proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). That survey came just months after a Reuters poll finding 70 percent national support for Medicare for All — including a majority of self-identified Republicans.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.