Two doctors walking side-by-side in a village.

Fostering Innovation in Healthcare Financing for Vulnerable Populations

By Cecilia Gamba, Project Manager, LeFil Consulting

Traditional health insurance models are not suitable for low-income segments, leaving millions of people globally financially vulnerable to health shocks. New approaches to financing healthcare are more urgently needed than ever. The Swiss Re Foundation 2023 Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award provides USD700k to accelerate entrepreneurial approaches to improving financial access to healthcare for low-income populations.

Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people globally, with higher life expectancy, lower maternal and child mortality, and better prevention of prevalent communicable diseases. But in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, access to quality healthcare remains unaffordable for most people. Without a financial safety net, a single illness can threaten the health and well-being of entire families. According to the World Health Organization, even before the pandemic, healthcare expenses were pushing an estimated 70 million people worldwide into extreme poverty every year, while another 435 million of already poor were pushed deeper into poverty. Although comprehensive data is not yet available, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have exacerbated this phenomenon.

Traditional insurance models struggle to pick up among low-income populations due to a variety of reasons related to both supply and demand, such as:

  • Insurers don’t know or understand the low-income segment, which requires to switch the paradigm from selling few policies for millions of dollars, to selling millions of policies for a few dollars;
  • Traditional distribution channels don’t reach low-income populations, particularly outside of major cities, and the cost of agents is too high to sell microinsurance;
  • Many insurance companies in developing countries still have manual and paper-based processes; where technology is used, it is not flexible enough to integrate with non-traditional distribution partners and manage a large amount of policies;
  • Collecting insurance premiums from low-income segments is difficult for insurers, as many people are unbanked or don’t have a debit/credit card;
  • Annual subscriptions are unaffordable for many low-income customers, and providing financing is complicated and perceived as too risky by insurers;
  • Low-income customers have poor awareness and low trust in insurance, due to cultural barriers and competing religious beliefs;
  • The complexity of the products (e.g. exclusions, terms and conditions) makes it hard for low-income customers to understand their benefits and see the value of insurance;
  • The amount of paperwork required to enrol and submit claims creates a complicated customer journey.

To overcome these barriers and reduce the financial vulnerability to health shocks among low-income segments, it is imperative to invest into innovative financing solutions for healthcare. Entrepreneurial approaches can play a role in complementing the public sector, and can be very effective at developing, prototyping and scaling up innovative solutions to ensure healthcare delivery. Advances in digital and financial solutions in particular are unlocking new opportunities to improve access and affordability of healthcare for low-income segments.

One initiative that aims at accelerating such solutions is the Swiss Re Foundation’s Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award, a global annual competition that recognises social enterprises that take innovative approaches to build resilient societies in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The 2023 Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award targets innovative, market-based solutions that increase financial access to healthcare in low-income communities. The competition will select 3 winners based on the combined criteria of social impact, business model, scalability, team, and need for support. The winners will receive grant funding for a total budget of USD 700,000, as well as non-financial support from experts across Swiss Re and beyond. The application period will be open through 23 January 2023. You can learn more about the call to applications, the timeline, and the selection criteria here.

About the Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award

The Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award is the Swiss Re Foundation’s flagship initiative. It is an annual global competition that recognizes entrepreneurial initiatives taking innovative approaches to building resilient societies and realizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Winners from previous years include Stre@mline, a Ugandan company that leverages community involvement, trusted health care providers and technology to revitalize rural health insurance; Clinicas del Azucar, which has revolutionized diabetes and hypertension care in Mexico; CarePay, a Kenya-based company that provides a mobile health payments platform; and many others.

The Swiss Re Foundation is funded by Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, and reflects the company’s social and humanitarian values. Together with its partners and Swiss Re employees, the Foundation supports efforts to strengthen societal resilience in countries where Swiss Re operates and in targeted developing regions. Its work focuses on three strategic areas: Natural Hazards and Climate Risk Management, Access to Health, and Innovation for Societal Resilience. The Swiss Re Foundation aims to make basic healthcare accessible to at least 1 million more people by 2024.

For the Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award, the Foundation partners with LeFil Consulting, a Zurich-based consultancy specialized in the identification, design, growth and replication of innovations that create social and economic value, sustainably and at scale.

 

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