Colombian government proposes health reforms to improve access and raise wages

Colombia’s government has proposed new health reforms that aim to improve access to healthcare, raise wages for public health workers and provide subsidies to lower-income citizens. Alongside labour, education and pension reforms, the plans form a core part of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda for tackling inequality in Colombia, which is among the highest in Latin America.

Petro wants to reduce the private sector’s role in Colombia’s highly privatised health system. Under the current model, workers and employers make regular contributions to private health providers, known as EPS. People unable to contribute on a regular basis can receive healthcare under a public system which has long been chronically underfunded.

The weakness of health provision was starkly demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic when services almost collapsed in many cities, while many health workers died and others resigned due to the unsafe conditions they were obliged to work under. The public health workers union ANTHOC, which has met with several JFC delegations to Colombia, is supporting the proposals.

EPS will still operate healthcare services but the state intends to increase its involvement by managing payments to municipal and regional health authorities. The EPS system has a history of corruption and inefficiency which the government hopes to overcome with a new approach.

While the reforms have faced opposition from conservatives in congress, trade unions and social organisations are backing the government’s plans, with large public rallies to show support held across the country on 14 February.

In a speech in congress to present the proposals, Petro said ‘we want doctors to be able to go anywhere in the country and care for anyone, for the country to be organised in a way that its people, its inhabitants, can always receive care from health professionals.’