TBY talks to Jaime González Montaño, General Manager of Coosalud, on working in remote regions of Colombia, the “peace dividend,” and searching for a partner company.

Coosalud is one of the largest insurance company in Colombia and a top-ranked Health Promoting Company (EPS in Spanish) according to the Ministry of Health. How did it gain its leadership position?

We are a cooperative company—in other words, a non-profit organization. Coosalud has grown exponentially in numbers; however, our most important asset is people. Developing our human capital has really translated into huge gains. Our main objective is to help the poor population in Colombia. One of the primary things we do at health insurance industry is evaluate people’s risk in order to minimize their threats. As a result, we have improved people’s health by reducing deaths because of foreseeable diseases such as cervical cancer and certain cardiovascular illnesses, adding healthy years of life for Colombians. To develop our people , we have implemented some programs to boost happiness at work ensuring not only with competitive salaries, but also giving them tons of reasons for being proud at Coosalud’s family. The monetary aspect is important, but being a part of an organization socially and environmentally responsible makes our employees feel satisfied. We believe that if the employees are happy at work, people with sickness and diseases will receive better and more human service. This has allowed us to achieve two milestones. First, our affiliates chose us as the best EPS in Colombia, and second, we were chosen by “Great Place to Work” as one of the top-10 companies to work for in Latin America.

How would you assess the economic and social impact that Coosalud has had on the Caribbean region?

The Caribbean coast is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Colombia. The poverty rate is high compared to other regions and it’s an area where the rural population has few economic resources, and that’s why our company has a huge impact, if people get sick , they wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment in an easy way. Therefore , our strategy to focus on poor people has allowed many of them access to healthcare services. As a result, we have steadily reduced the mortality rates in that region and increased people’s chances of employment. We also directly employ about 900 people. In addition, Coosalud has been one of the best health insurance companies (EPS) in terms of implementing the government policy to supply health services to remote areas with the poorest people, reducing mortality and morbidity indicators, and allowing people to be more productive and find better jobs.

What are the key successes of the health system? What are the top challenges?

The health system has been effective, particularly for poor people in Colombia. For instance, the infant mortality rate in the 1990s was over 27%, while by 2014 it stood at 14%. Additionally, The health system has private and public resources. This has allowed the system to cover wide swathes of the population; not only for higher income people, but also for lower income people through financial solidarity. Before the EPS law, about 60% of births were delivered in hospitals, the rate that is now 97%. On the other hand, EPS’s affiliates have had huge challenges due to a lack of proper funding. In addition to ensuring against the health risk of a person, the health system also protects against financial risk, because the out-of-pocket expense is only 14%. The World Health Organization has it listed it as one of the best in the world. Without additional resources, this will generate a long-lasting recession in the system, which in the end worsens the overall quality. Despite these challenges, the indexes show that the health of Colombians is still improving year by year. To sum things up, the health system has been positive for the development of Colombia. With an average of USD200 annually, people in Colombia have access to a universal healthcare system, which attends to over one million people daily, compared to USD600 in Chile or USD19,000 in the US.

What foreign investment opportunities are there in Colombia’s healthcare sector?

There is a huge opportunity because the healthcare system still requires more capital to stabilize its finances. There are currently 14 beds for every 10,000 inhabitants. However, 18 of the 45 best hospitals in Latin America are Colombian. Many international groups such as Sanitas have already invested in the country. The international interest for this sector is showing its huge opportunities. Colombia spends about USD20 billion on healthcare, a huge amount of money, which should mainly come from the government. This large sum should be very attractive for investors.

What opportunities will result from the Colombia’s peace agreement?

It will certainly benefit foreign investors because rebel groups as the FARC were a hazard for them. The rule of law is guaranteed in Colombia, and this is a country that protects foreign investment. This post-conflict atmosphere will also generate a great opportunity to invest in all those under-developed areas where the rebel groups were previously present. In our sector, new hospitals and health centers will certainly be built in these regions. In the end, Colombia has a great opportunity to grow, and investors are welcome here. What’s more, we are also trying to join the OECD, then I believe investors could look at the country as a real star in the global economy.

What are your remaining goals for 2017?

We are searching for a partner to provide us with the equity we need to grow in this sector. We have about 8% of the affiliates in the subsidized regimen over the country, and about 3% in the total industry. Our goal is to grow in both and penetrate the contributory scheme, where we are currently not active. We also want to improve our risk management programs to make an impact in our people’s health. Our goal is to become a national and international standard in health insurance industry.

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