Experience shows free medicines help more, say some experts
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced on Wednesday that his government will launch the National Health Assurance Mission in the current fiscal year. The idea, the minister said, is to “assure” every Indian citizen with appropriate health care. Speaking at the 8th Health Insurance Summit, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), he said everyone should have access to knowledge and information on matters such as preventable diseases, assurance on availability of essential drugs and assurance on a package of diagnostics which are essential.
A committee of experts has been working on this programme and a concrete plan is being put in place for the same, informed the minister. He said the modalities for the mission are still being worked out, but gave a clear indication that health insurance will be an important component of health assurance for all. The minister said he will speak to the finance minister about the implementation of the mission.
“We need to make insurance a revolution. Healthcare should be available in an assured way to all. Government should help those who can’t afford premium for insurance. Our finance department should help those who are asking for health insurance,” he said.
Naresh Trehan, chairperson and managing director of Medanta-The Medicity, was also present on the occasion and explained what the mission was all about. “All forms of healthcare need to be aligned. That’s what national Health Assurance Mission will do. All the central and state healthcare schemes have to be aligned. Similarly, all the providers, be it public, private or NGO sector, they should come together. We cannot wait till government infrastructure is put in place. That will take a long time.”
A Vaidheesh, chairperson and vice-president, corporate affairs and policies, Asia Pacific, Johnson and Johnson said that just as the telecom sector had leveraged the power of a billion people to increase connectivity, it is time for the healthcare sector to also leverage the power of a billion people. “We need a comprehensive and hybrid model that works for the country,” he said.
Ravi Duggal, country coordinator of International Budget Partnership, a US-based non-profit, sounded a little skeptical of the mission.
“What is becoming very apparent is that the government wants to expand insurance-based healthcare system. It has an inclination towards public-private partnership. Look what has happened in Rajasthan. The free medicines and diagnostics scheme brought many people to the public sector. Its dilution will take away their faith (see ‘Rajasthan does a U-turn on free medicines, introduces insurance cover’ ) . Experience shows it is not insurance, but accessibility to medicines that helps people. Despite insurance scheme Aarogyasri, out of pocket expenditures have not fallen in Andhra Pradesh, he pointed out (see ‘Insurance becomes a hurdle’) .
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