How the government is gearing up for rising healthcare demand in India

By Anushree Jois

About a year after placing a cap on the rates of coronary stents, the government has now confirmed that it would continue to regulate the prices. Earlier this month, the rates were revised marginally. In this context, the government also spoke of the mega health insurance plan that is likely to come into effect during the year, which would result in an increased demand for healthcare.

Regulation of coronary stents

It was seen that the popular stent procedure for cardiac patients had become exorbitant and many vulnerable families were left high and dry in an attempt to pay for it. Cardiac stents are ‘essential medicines’ and as such, in the interest of the public health, the government decided to slash the prices of coronary stents by up to 85 percent. The move came as a huge relief to cardiac patients, who earlier could not afford the stent procedure.

During the last week, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) issued a notification revising the prices again, though marginally. Effective from 13th February 2018, the notification had increased the price of bare metal stents from Rs 7,400 to Rs 7,660 while reducing the price of drug-eluting stents from Rs 30,180 to Rs 27,890. In the wake of making healthcare affordable, the government’s regulation on the prices of cardiac stents is expected to continue during the year.

National Health Protection Scheme

Unfortunately, access to quality and affordable healthcare is still considered to be a privilege in India. United Nations estimates that about one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion poor people live in India. Many such people do not have access to basic healthcare and lack sufficient funds to afford treatments. Government hospitals are fewer in number and are either insufficiently funded or lack basic facilities. 80 percent of India’s healthcare is run by private entities which makes it usually unaffordable for the common man. It was reported by Reuters in 2014 that India spends about one percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over public healthcare, which is among the lowest in the world.

Marginalised and downtrodden families are often left with no choice but to approach private hospitals which are expensive and are forced to sell their belongings or take loans to fund treatments. With an intention to provide reasonable and accessible healthcare to all, the government has introduced the ‘National Health Protection Scheme’ in the Union Budget for 2018-19. The scheme is being commonly referred to as “Modicare” or “NaMocare.” The scheme aims to cover 100 million families or 500 million people and provide a sum of Rs 5 lakhs per year per family for secondary and tertiary care.

According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the scheme is a move towards universal health coverage in India. The healthcare scheme has received a budget allocation of Rs 10,000 crore to be shared between the Centre and the States, out of which only 50 percent of the beneficiaries identified using Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data will be covered in the pilot year. Touted to be the ‘world’s largest public healthcare system’, it seeks to provide a safety net for those who are unable to provide for their medical care.

Impact of the scheme

On one hand, people are calling the government’s move to introduce the medical scheme a mere move to garner votes in the upcoming general assembly elections in 2019. People are also demanding a clearer framework of the scheme to ensure its proper implementation. On the other hand, politicians, medical experts and activists have welcomed the move ‘as a need of the hour’.

The Budget has made provisions for the scheme which include the establishment of 1.5 lakh wellness centres under the Ayushman Bharat program, to provide free essential drugs and diagnostic tests. The move is seen as progressive and ambitious. The scheme, if formulated and implemented as assured, will benefit its intended target group immensely.

Increased demand for healthcare

With a proactive approach adopted by the government, be it in terms of regulating the prices of cardiac stents or in introducing a new healthcare scheme, we can expect that healthcare is set to become more affordable to the common man. If implemented in its true spirit, there will be an increased demand for healthcare. Medical facilities across the nation should indeed keep themselves prepared for the forthcoming increase in demand.

Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt