Health for All: The Time for Action is Now

Posted: April 7, 2018

Health for All: The Time for Action is Now

Today is World Health Day, a day to remind ourselves that while we have overcome many global health challenges, at least half of the world’s population is unable to obtain essential health services. According to the World Health Organization, more than 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budget on healthcare today. Even more alarming is the fact that each year close to 100 million people are being pushed into “extreme poverty” due to healthcare expenses.

As the bar rises, we must continue to strive to provide access to healthcare for our 7 billion neighbors around the world. Healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege. How can we solve this problem?

We have increasing amounts of medical information at our fingertips. Nontraditional players are vying to fill medicine cabinets. The barriers of time, distance, and language that have long separated patients from healthcare professionals are disappearing. The marvels of science are putting personalized care within reach. And while advances in technology, changing demographics and shifting consumer preferences are transforming just about every other industry, how healthcare is delivered largely remains untouched. The industry’s response to meeting unmet needs too often is painstakingly slow because of its size, traditions, complexity and underlying incentives to maintain the status quo. And even though the delivery of healthcare in the developed world and developing world differs vastly, it’s eerily similar in its resistance to change.

The time for action is now. Here are some ideas that can contribute toward providing greater access to quality healthcare: (1) putting patients first with a market driven by consumers and the right incentives, (2) ensuring that developing healthcare markets avoid the pitfalls that developed markets have experienced in delivering care, and (3) expanding the use of generic medicines and biosimilars, which will greatly lower costs to the system.

First, all players in the global healthcare system must work together to help ensure that patients everywhere can access the care they need. I realize this is much easier said than done. However, a great place to start is putting patients first. In developed markets, particularly the U.S. for example, this means allowing patients to be better healthcare consumers. Currently, individuals often struggle to have holistic ownership over their care, and dubious incentives to maintain or improve their health. What we need is for individuals to own their healthcare, both in terms of preventative care and the ability to respond when illness strikes. Technology no doubt will be an important disruptor in this process.

Creating a market-driven environment that incentivizes people to evaluate their care options, choose the best treatment for them and get the benefit of their insurance coverage from the first dollar spent will help. In other words, by giving individuals better control of their healthcare insurance, we can help “consumerize” healthcare. In the U.S., there’s a precedent for just such a transition; we saw a similar evolution from pensions to 401(k) plans. This is the reality we are observing as costs – but not necessarily benefits – continue to shift to patients with very little transparency into pricing. We also should rethink the practice of enrolling people in healthcare insurance plans on an annual basis. The reality is that, in the realm of personal health, a year is a very short period. Many conditions, especially the chronic ones that are destabilizing healthcare systems everywhere, require prevention or treatment that spans much longer time frames.

Second, in developing markets, governments need to continue evolving and participating in the delivery of healthcare while avoiding the complexity and bureaucracy that has ensnared healthcare delivery in the developed world. Technology can help, by allowing emerging markets to avoid the pitfalls of entrenched infrastructure and poor transparency. It also can literally deliver healthcare into the palms of patients’ hands through digital health applications and other mobile health solutions.

It is also important in this area to provide affordable treatments to those in developing counties, for instance, those living with HIV. For more than 10 years, Mylan has been supplying HIV medicine globally. Today, more than 40% of patients receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS rely on a Mylan product, and we aim to continue this commitment to expand access to medicine.

Third and lastly, as CEO of Mylan, a company whose heritage is generic drugs, I’m a big believer in their power to drastically reduce healthcare costs for patients and for the system. In the U.S., for instance, generics now represent 89% of all prescriptions dispensed, but account for only 26% of total drug spending. We must also leverage the promise of biosimilars, which are just now entering the U.S. marketplace after years of successful outcomes in other markets, like Europe. I applaud FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb who has been vocal about the need to speed generics and biosimilars to market. Vigorously advocating for policies that accelerate people’s access to these medicines around the world is not just a good idea, it’s common sense.

The bottom line: As consumers, we want more control over our well-being. We need transparency and information about healthcare to make wise choices. We deserve to receive value for every healthcare dollar spent, and generics are a smart choice that consumers can already begin making. Getting people more engaged in the process of taking charge of their health and using learnings to ensure access to healthcare in the developing world are critical ways to help challenge the status quo and create #HealthforAll. Let’s get busy. There’s not a moment to waste.