Indonesia aims for universal healthcare

Patients wait to see a doctor at a local clinic in Jakarta. Healthcare services like this will be free of charge for all Indonesians from 2014.

Universal health care -- who pays for it and who gets it -- is a contentious issue the world over.

And while countries like the United States continue to debate the best way to deal with health care, developing nations like Indonesia are steaming ahead with ambitious plans.

Beginning in January 2014, the Indonesian government will roll out a national health care scheme to cover each and every one of its 240 million citizens.

Around 60 percent of Indonesians are already covered by some form of insurance, but by 2019 that net will widen, giving all Indonesians free access to community healthcare centers and government hospitals.

The country's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, wants $2.6 billion to kick-start the plan that will be funded in part by government, employer and employee contributions.

Professor Ali Ghufron, the Vice Minister for Health says reaching a national consensus on health care has not been easy.

“The opposition and some other stakeholders, especially some labor associations, did not agree because they thought they would have to pay,” he says.

Political challenges aside, the government insists universal health care will make Indonesians healthier and more productive. The plan is also expected to give millions of people better access to essential medical services. 

Outside a sprawling, orange-domed mosque in downtown Jakarta, 43-year-old Nana sells traditional Indonesian noodles from a rickety cart. He makes around $80 a month, not a lot to feed his family of eight. Nana also has no health insurance, and can’t afford the $6 it costs to see a doctor.

“If I need to see a doctor, I have to pay for it myself. But if I get really sick and need to go to the hospital and can’t afford it, I can get a certificate of poverty from the village headman and the government will pay,” he says.

Universal health care may make life easier for millions of people like Nana. But skeptics like Fauzi Ichsan, a senior economist at Standard Chartered warn the government has a poor track record of delivering on big plans. 

According to Mr. Ichsan, “the issue is always execution, the inability of the public sector whether the central government or the regional governments to implement their programs on time.”

A slack of qualified health care professionals also threatens to dampen Indonesia's hopes. If it is going to look after as many people as it says, the government will need to train thousands of new doctors and nurses in the coming years. 

And with national elections also scheduled for 2014, the pressure will be on to deliver on this landmark reform.

About the author

Nidhi Dutt is a contributing reporter to Marketplace.

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