As countries expand health care services for the covered population, they also need to guarantee the same health coverage for their citizens working in foreign countries, as well as for foreign residents, says Mr Eduardo Banzon, principal health specialist of Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, at the Asian Development Bank.
Asians are increasingly moving around the region, mostly to find jobs, add up to 31 million in 2015 alone. That number is likely to rise as the ASEAN Economic Community makes it easier for workers to cross borders.
“If increasing mobility, innovative thinking, and collaboration across countries have rapidly made phone roaming a reality, health coverage should be able to roam, too,” he said in an article published on Eco-business. He noted that many Asian countries have set up national health insurance systems (NHIs).
Roaming universal health coverage (UHC) is crucial for informal communities like migrant workers, who are vulnerable to a range of infectious and non-communicable diseases, mental health disorders, maternal mortality, substance use, alcoholism, malnutrition, and violence. They face barriers to decent healthcare – especially if their legal status is uncertain.
Roaming health coverage has yet to mature in Asia. For instance, the Philippines requires its outgoing migrant workers to get health insurance coverage, but this means paying upfront and getting reimbursed later. Indonesia, Nepal and other countries are implementing similar schemes, and experiencing the same weaknesses and
Also, several countries still struggle to ensure financial protection with their NHI and other health coverage schemes. The share of household out-of-pocket payments for health care services is persistently high, at more than 50% of total health spending in Cambodia, Laos, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Centralisation of health information and sharing of health data
However, increasing centralisation of health information and sharing of health data across public and private health systems, are making many NHIs more strategic and efficient.
These developments provide a platform for roaming health coverage. They would also help to have more clarity in benefits packages, payment methods, and health guarantees. Inter-connected and inter-operable health information systems across countries would facilitate bilateral and multi-lateral mutual recognition and agreements that could formalise roaming, said Mr Banzon. A