The Inclusive Potential of Universal Health Care Access

By Frenk, Julio | Americas Quarterly, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Inclusive Potential of Universal Health Care Access


Frenk, Julio, Americas Quarterly


I was appointed secretary of health in 2000 as part of a social transformation that brought a change in Mexico's ruling party for the fi rst time in 71 years. I had already spent about 20 years studying health care and advocating for a universal health system when then-President Vicente Fox appointed me to the post. The fi rst thing I proposed to him was Seguro Popular-a sweeping public health insurance program.

Mexico, like many Latin American countries, had evolved into a segmented health care system, where access to insurance was not a right of citizenship but a benefi t of employment. Seguro Popular turned health insurance into a right of the people.

Politically, the revolution in Mexico's health care system was possible because of the change of power that brought an end to seven decades of one-party rule. Completing Mexico's transition to democracy meant making sure that civil and political rights were guaranteed, and that social rights-most importantly, the right to health care-were universal.

At the time, more than half of the Mexican population (50 million people) was uninsured. Most citizens paid for health care out of their own pocket. That effectively forced 4 million Mexican families into poverty each year due to the illness of a family member. …

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