Oct 21, 2012

Health coverage in Latin American countries

This is a very messy graph. It is a graph of hospital beds per 100,000 people in Latin American countries. What I find interesting however is the ranking of countries in 2010, the last year when data is available form the World Bank. 

As imperfect as it is, this indicator is a proxy of health coverage. Cuba is at the top [of course this case is controversial for many reasons]. And Nicaragua and Guatemala are at the bottom. Notice the downward trend since the 1970s, probably due to population growth in the region, which has surpassed the growth of public and private spending on health. 

The case of Guatemala is puzzling because it is at the bottom of the list, but it is wealthier than other countries that are above it (see a GDP-per-capita ranking of LA countries here). Uruguay is the wealthiest in terms of GDP per capita and is below average in this proxy of health coverage. 

Why Guatemala is at the bottom? I don't have an answer now, but as an economists would tell, there might be supply and demand factors. In the supply side it is possible that the supply is low because of regulations that make it hard for new companies to enter the market (one example could be new entrants in the insurance industry). In the demand side, it is possible that the public sector and private individuals do not consider spending in health a high priority. This might have deeper causes related to risk tolerance and even lack of information about the importance of spending in health. See my last post on this issue. 

The message I get from this graph is that countries like Guatemala have a lot to gain from increasing health coverage, the graph suggest that they can afford it. 

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