Intended for healthcare professionals


Universal health coverage: a policy whose time has come

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 23 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6360
  1. Margaret E Kruk, assistant professor of health policy and management
  1. 1Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY 10025, USA
  1. mkruk{at}

It is both the right and the smart thing to do

Despite competition from a panoply of other health challenges, universal health coverage has been increasingly in the spotlight. Universal health coverage is defined as the ability of all people to obtain good quality health services when they need them, without experiencing financial hardship.1 The topic of two recent reports by the World Health Organization, it has been proposed for inclusion in the new global development agenda that will replace the millennium development goals after 2015.

Adding to the push for universal health coverage is a new report jointly published by Save the Children, Rockefeller Foundation, Unicef, and WHO, which was launched at the 68th United Nations general assembly in New York this September.2 The report makes a compelling case for why universal health coverage is needed for rich and poor countries alike.

Unlike previous global health policy initiatives, the policy aims to expand access to healthcare and to protect people from financial hardship as a result of receiving care. Around 150 million people annually spend more than 40% of their non-food budget on healthcare—so called catastrophic health spending.3 These figures underestimate the problem because they exclude …

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