Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Health cover for all Indians

Sopan Correspondent / New Delhi

Given the rising cost of health in the country and the inability of the poor to avail private and expensive health services, a health insurance scheme that will cover every Indian has been conceived.

Officials said a committee of experts appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and headed by prominent cardiologist K Srinath Reddy, also the chief of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), is working on a public-funded scheme, likely to be introduced in the 12th Five Year Plan, starting in 2012-13. “We are looking at a scheme where people will pay premium depending on their income,” said Planning Commission member secretary Sudha Pillai.

A system which the government could be looking at is in Karnataka where Dr Devi Shetty has pioneered the business for democratizing heart care in India. He heads the world's largest and also the cheapest heart care institute called Narayana Hrudayalaya. He has proved that a low cost health care model can also be profitable. He has made possible the world’s largest heart and cancer hospitals, a specialty hospital for all the plastic reconstructive surgery, an institute for organ transplant, a hospital and also training and research institutes. Dr Shetty is also the pioneer in the field of health insurance in which a very low premium for the poor can help them avail the facilities at the world-class health system.

In the government model, the plan is that entire premium for those below the poverty line could be paid by the government itself. For the better off, the government’s contribution will diminish. This scheme is likely to cover not only hospitalisation expenses, but also treatment undergone at listed hospitals. Most private health insurance schemes cover only hospitalisation.

There is already a health insurance scheme under the Rashtriya Swasth Bima Yojana for BPL families. Close to half of 6 crore BPL families are covered under this scheme. In the next step, all those enrolled in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme will be covered, followed by women enrolled in over 10 lakh angwanwadi centers around the country. According to the National Sample Survey Office, an Indian spends 80 % of his health expenses on buying medicine. The high cost of treatment makes health services unaffordable to many. Presently, over 90 % Indians are not covered by any public or private health insurance.

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