Healthcare: An economic driver

OECD Health Ministers Meeting, 13-14 May 2004

Mexico's Health Secretary Julio Frenk, who chaired the OECD Health Ministers' Meeting. ©OECD/Jacques Brinon

The value of shared learning and mutual understanding: this was a key message of the OECD Health Ministers Meeting last May. The agenda showed the myriad areas where economic analysis can enrich policy design: from quality, efficiency and cost-effective provision, to the economics of prevention and the incentives for innovation.

The meeting was an opportunity for ministers to discuss different perspectives and experiences, and the importance of bringing together health and economics for the benefit of policymaking was in evidence. There is no single recipe for addressing the complexities of health sector reform. Rather, the availability of a broad menu of options to ensure the financial sustainability of health systems through more emphasis on preventive care greatly enhances the policy process.

There was a lively discussion on the role of innovation and its capacity to ensure that advances in science are translated into benefits for patients. All agreed that those in greatest need should have access to healthcare and the latest medical technologies.

A memorable highlight of the meeting was the joint discussion between ministers of health and finance. Such encounters between these ministries are unusual for most countries, and this was their first-ever coming together at the OECD. It was another excellent opportunity to confirm the significant role health systems play in our economies.

The discussion went beyond the traditional focus on cost-containment to a more profound analysis of the many ways health system performance and economic growth interact. And it underscored how much of what governments do is interrelated, cutting across disciplines, and how horizontal approaches that harness different expertise to solve problems can improve our knowledge and policymaking.

The OECD 2004 Health Ministers Meeting was a landmark in international cooperation and contributed to a better understanding of the central role of health in the development agenda. Mexico has benefited greatly from this exchange and we look forward to contributing to future work. Today, more than ever, economic and social policy must be treated as two sides of the same coin.


Frenk, Julio (2004), “Health and the economy: A vital relationship”, in OECD Observer No 243, May 2004.

©OECD Observer No 244, September 2004

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