Co-operatives and mutuals make a significant – but largely unknown – contribution to the well-being of millions of people through healthcare organisations, according to a report presented at the International Summit of Cooperatives.
Jean-Pierre Girard, expert advisor with Canadian social enterprise and community development organisation Productions LPS, presented the study Better Health & Social Care: How are Co-ops & Mutuals Boosting Innovation and Access Worldwide, giving examples of how co-operatives are meeting the healthcare needs of different communities.
The study is the first of its kind since a United Nations report published in 1997, and brought together a team of international researchers who collected information on the presence, importance and uniqueness of health, social care and pharmaceutical co-operatives and mutuals. It also looked into co-operatives offering health insurance policies.
According to the report, over 81 million people globally use healthcare facilities owned by 5,000 cooperatives and mutuals, such as medical centres, clinics, hospitals. But it also notes that co-operatives operating in other sectors – including agriculture and mining – often own and operate healthcare facilities for members and local communities.
The study gave the example of Rwanda, where 90% of the population is covered by health insurance provided by a mutual. It also highlighted the Unimed co-operative network in Brazil, which includes more than 110,000 physicians, and which was the official provider of emergency medical services at the 2014 Fifa world cup. In Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina governments have appealed to co-ops to ensure the provision of health services.
Healthcare co-operatives are also prominent in Europe, said Mr Girard. In Spain, the Espriu Foundation co-operative network assumes the management of public hospitals – a move that has proved economical for the government and which has improved customer satisfaction. In France, mutuals own and operate hundreds of health facilities, while in Germany, the NOWEDA pharmacy co-operative is ranked among the 150 largest companies in the country.
In the Lazio region of Italy, health and social care co-operatives have taken this a step further, and joined in a consortium to offer members a full spectrum of services and continuous care.
The study stressed the originality of co-operatives and mutuals in the field of health and social services. It also added that within the context of increasing budget constraints, now is an interesting time for public authorities to consider a co-operative option for healthcare.
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