Mexico’s Healthcare Challenges

Mexico’s current healthcare system is not equitable, efficient, nor sustainable.  Additionally, the current structure of the country’s healthcare system is not achieving a good price-to-quality ratio.  While public spending on healthcare has increased over the past ten years (from 2.4% to 3.2% of GDP), 10% of the country’s health budget is spent on administration and individuals’ out of pocket spending on healthcare services exceeds 40%.

Angel Gurria, Secretary-General at the OECD*, recently made these remarks regarding some of Mexico’s healthcare system issues:

“Another real challenge lies in the fact that the Mexican health system functions as a cluster of sub-systems that operate in isolation.  Each offers different levels of care, at different prices, and with outcomes that are also very uneven.  In effect, people are unable to choose their type of insurance or their service provider, as these are predetermined by their employment status – public, private, formal, informal, or none.”

Mexican healthcare is delivered through a number of separate social security institutes and the country has a publicly-subsidized health insurance plan known as “Seguro Popular” which has extended coverage to 50 million people over the past ten years.  Unfortunately, out of pocket spending for consumers is very high which is reflective of problems in providing effective insurance and high quality healthcare services.  Furthermore, as alluded to by Mr. Gurria’s comments, approximately 33% of Mexicans each year are forced to change their physician simply because they have changed their job.

Mexico has high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  Of Mexican adults, more than 15% have diabetes.  Since 1990, deaths attributed to heart disease have decreased a mere 1%.  In the past 10 years, the percentage of overweight or obese adults has increased nearly 10% to a staggering 71%.  Moreover, one in three Mexican children is overweight or obese.  To make matters worse, Mexico has an average of 2.2 physicians for every 1,000 inhabitants.

In a recent report by the OECD, three priorities emerged for Mexican health system reform:

  1. Mexico must extend service-exchange agreements so that members can more readily move from one system to another.
  2. Greater emphasis should be placed on improving quality of care and outcomes.
  3. Mexico needs to align the various areas of care and medical service (e.g. care pathways, prices, information systems and administrative practices).


* The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) works with governments around the world measuring productivity and global flows of trade and investment, analyzing and comparing data, and setting international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and taxes to healthcare and more.  Ten years ago, the OECD published its first “Health System Review of Mexico” and it has just released its second publication on the same topic (which can be found here).


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