There are many roads to ‘universal health’, and many different outcomes. This paper compares the experiences of Chile and Costa Rica, countries that have come to epitomize opposite approaches to health policy in Latin America. Chile represents the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model promoted by global health agencies, which focus on public-private insurance schemes covering a limited package of services. Costa Rica represents a universal health system (UHS) approach that provides and funds all medical and preventive services to citizens through a single public entity.
The authors demonstrate empirically how the insurance-based health system in Chile has underperformed on most accounts when compared to the publicly financed and operated model in Costa Rica. Although both countries have seen major advances in primary care, Chile’s health ‘market’ has led to inefficient use of resources, with higher administrative costs and more irrational medical procedures resulting from oligopolies and collusion among private providers. In terms of affordability, Chileans incur significant out-of-pocket health payments and are more likely to face catastrophic health expenditures. Both countries have good scores on access to basic care, but people in Chile generally face more barriers to healthcare access, including distance to facilities, wait times and cost. Finally, Costa Ricans continue to be largely satisfied with the quality of their healthcare services, more so than Chileans.