Mexican voters will be heading to the polls next June for what will be the largest election process in the country’s history with concurrent state and federal elections. The election will also mark another historic first as the two leading presidential hopefuls are women: Claudia Sheinbaum of the incumbent president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party, and opposition coalition candidate Xochitl Galvez. Who are the candidates and what impact could a potential win on either side have on Mexican healthcare?
Sheinbaum, the Continuity Candidate
Health is a right and, as such, the state must provide this right
Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) founded by current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is a 61-year-old physicist with considerable political experience as the former mayor of Mexico City.
Seen as a continuation of Lopez Obrador who will need to capture the outgoing president’s most fervent followers to win, Sheinbaum has vowed to uphold his legacy if elected. “There’s no turning back from the transformation begun by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,” she said at an election rally.
Sheinbaum publicly promised never to betray the Mexican people and to remain faithful to the principles of a left that she sees as incorruptible. In this sense, she also highlighted that if she reaches the presidency there will be no privileges for Mexican oligarchs nor will the nation’s natural resources be handed over to private and foreign investment as the opposition claims. The MORENA candidate’s political and social project will also seek to consolidate the infrastructure plans initiated by the incumbent president, such as the cross-country Mayan Train, whose construction has been carried out amid harsh criticism. But how the candidate’s intended continuity will affect Mexico’s healthcare remains to be seen.
Mexico operates a public healthcare system that in 2019, under Lopez Obrador, was divided into multiple public healthcare networks including the Institute of Social Security and Services for Public Employees, the Mexican Institute of Social Security for non-government employees, and the so-called Seguro Popular (SP). The SP, dismantled in 2020 as a part of a complex government health system revamp, provided basic health insurance to the unemployed and poor. Now, after SP was modified and renamed in 2020 as the Institute of Health for Well-being (INSABI), many argue that a large part of the population, some 37 million people, are falling outside of the social security system.
Sheinbaum is likely to continue supporting INSABI and as mayor of Mexico City, she defended the new public organism. “It is a completely different conception. Seguro Popular assumed that health was a commodity and that the population had to be insured to pay for the services. Now health is a right and, as such, the state must provide this right. That is the big difference between Seguro Popular and INSABI,” she said at the time.
As mayor of Mexico, a city that represents 18.6 percent of the country’s population, Sheinbaum was heavily criticised for her management of the COVID-19 pandemic. She carried out what has been referred to as a “quasi-experimental study” in public health involving the un-approved drug ivermectin. “By the end of January 2021, an unapproved drug with no evidence of therapeutic efficacy had been supplied to more than 50,000 residents of the capital without any control or rigorous monitoring,” said Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego.
The MORENA candidate has, however, declared her intention to focus on healthcare, announcing an investment of MXN 8 billion in medical equipment for over 250 healthcare centres in Mexico City, yet how these investments will be financed is unclear. The present government’s ongoing healthcare schemes, bankrolled by taxation, may soon run out of financing in a country whose tax revenues do not reach 15 percent of the GDP.
Xochitl Galvez, the Outsider
State companies are terrible at managing Mexicans’ money and they’re terrible at being productive. So, yes, I do look toward the private sector
Sheinbaum’s rival is a 60-year-old senator of indigenous origins with a background in business and philanthropy. She represents the Broad Front for Mexico, a coalition made up of the conservative National Action party (PAN), the once-powerful centre left Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) and the social democrat Democratic Revolution party (PRD).
While the three parties appear to have conflicting agendas, they are united in defeating MORENA and the predecessor to the current coalition, Va por México (Go for Mexico), which was established in 2020 and competed in the 2021 elections, ultimately won 39.61 percent of the seats (199 in total) in the Chamber of Deputies.
Galvez presents herself as a disruptive force, breaking up the hegemony of Lopez Obrador and MORENA. “What was it that brought me here? My own personality, being disruptive, being an outsider,” she said in an interview with the El Pais newspaper. One of her most famous stunts was when she dressed up as a dinosaur in December 2022 to protest against measures proposed by Lopez Obrador’s government.
But Galvez is also putting herself forward as a practical candidate. “Problems are not fixed with ideologies, they are fixed with solutions,” she said when she was chosen to represent the coalition in September. Some of the solutions she has spoken about are nearshoring, private energy investment, and ways to attract more business to Mexico through economic and trade policies.
Galvez appears to be the more business friendly candidate, clearly stating that she will incentivise the private sector. “We have a very serious problem, which is that state companies are terrible at managing Mexicans’ money and they’re terrible at being productive. So, yes, I do look toward the private sector,” she asserted in an interview. However, perhaps within the constraints of her coalition’s parties, Galvez has also spoken about tax hikes for richer Mexicans.
With respect to healthcare, she is critical of Lopez Obrador’s policies. Speaking of his so-called Fourth Transformation (Cuarta Transformación in Spanish), the promise to do away with corruption and the “privileged abuses” of high government officials in a country particularly characterised by wealth distribution inequalities, Galvez claimed that it “turned out to be a destruction,” specifically of the country’s healthcare system.
She has spoken in favour of a universal healthcare system that would perhaps replace the current restructured system and repair the alleged damage of having dismantles SP. “I do believe that it is possible to reverse this disaster, which is why I am proposing to create a universal health system.”
In addition, Galvez has spoken out against the national medicines purchasing system, claiming that it has been the cause of thousands of deaths from diabetes, cancer and COVID-19. She has also commented that resolving the supply of medicines will involve reorganising the Commission for the Prevention of Health Risks (Cofepris).