Akwaaba President Obama

On July 9, 2009, in Ghana, health insurance, health reform, by Karen Grepin

Photo credit caitlindd/flickr.

I am terribly sad that I am not in Ghana this week. Later today (Friday), President Obama and his wife Michelle will make their first official visit to a sub-Saharan Africa country making a stop in Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana. I am sure almost everyone in Ghana is preparing for his visit, and even most Africans will be watching his visit carefully. What will he promise Africa? Will he live up to this promises? So much, it seems, is a stake. I had so wanted to be there to see this historic visit first hand.

I’ve been wondering, however, what can Obama learn from Ghana? I think it is interesting that health insurance reform is the top domestic priority of the Obama Administration (that is of course after making sure that the economy recovers) and has also been an important political issue in Ghana for many years. The current opposition party – the NPP – and which was until recently the ruling party, had been elected years ago on a promise to implement national health insurance. It was not easy, it took many years, lots of vocal opposition from the NDC, organized labor, health care providers, but somehow they managed to push it through and make it happen. During the last election national health insurance was once again an important issue, and even the NDC, that has initially opposed the plan, was campaigning on a platform that included important improvements to the national health insurance plan.

So what can Obama learn from the Ghanaian example?

1. Passing health insurance reforms will likely be opposed by just about everyone.

This is perhaps the biggest single reason why the US does not currently have national health insurance. Almost every country has faced the same problem: whenever health insurance reforms are proposed, most groups oppose any sort of change to the status quo, even if it seems that they should benefit from the changes. The way in which policies are passed in the US makes this kind of opposition particularly challenging and as such all previous efforts have failed. When the final vote on health insurance was passed in the Ghana parliament, the opposition party had even left the chambers in protest. But they got the bill passed.

2. You may not get rewarded from your efforts, at least in the short-run.

Sadly, I suspect that this might be the case in many countries. Implementing health insurance is long, costly, and politically taxing. Then to make things worse, you don’t always seen any immediate health benefits, and people like to complain. Passing health insurance is good for the country, but it is not always good for the party that makes the effort. The NPP was ousted in the last election (not just for health insurance of course). But, I hope Obama is the kind of President who is willing to put his beliefs of what is best for the US ahead of his own political needs.

3. But a healthy population is key to economic growth and recovery.

The real benefits from the health insurance reforms for Ghana will likely be realized in the coming years as the country begins to reap the benefits of having a healthy and productive population. It will affect education and the productivity of the labor force. Countries looking to make investments abroad may see health insurance as an asset and will consider more investments in Ghana. All of this means that good health is good for business. The US can learn and from this as well.

So I wish the Obamas all the best on their visit to this little gem of Africa. Enjoy your trip!

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2 Responses to “Akwaaba President Obama”

  1. girlintheraincoat says:

    Very interesting – I didn't know that Ghana has universal health care. Do you think that the US government will ever work efficiently enough to sustain a health care program that will satisfy the majority of the population?

    I believe universal health care is a great idea, and for the most part, is great in practice. I don't, however, have enough faith in our government for a universal health care program to succeed. Mostly because of the points you make.

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