There is a boom in healthcare in India and new hospitals are launched every day. But it is ironical that the beds are not getting occupied despite big gap between the demand and supply of beds. "India needs huge investments in creating healthcare infrastructure" is the usual beginning slide in any healthcare conference presentation and hence it sounds a little odd that beds are still unoccupied. The main reason, is the high cost of healthcare (despite being cheapest in the world?). How do we tackle the problem?. Nothing BUT deeper penetration of health insurance can improve this as the main issue for low occupancy is inability of the patients to bear the cost of treatment. Penetration of health insurance is pretty poor in India except for bigger towns where awareness is much better than the tier II and III cities. Rural India is still untouched by that phenomenon. The success of RSBY scheme for the unorganized sector has paved the way to reach the common man wherein a family gets covered for Rs.30,000/- for a small premium. Sure that in future, there will be linkage of NREGA and the UID project (Unique Identification Number project spear headed by Mr Nandan Nilekani of Infosys) with such schemes to make healthcare affordable and available for all citizens. In fact it will be good idea to reimburse the public hospitals for the treatment they give to poor patients through schemes like RSBY to make them self sustainable. Giving free healthcare will not work for country of our size in terms of population and geographic expanse.
Even in the urban area, consumers will find it affordable to avail healthcare only if they have medical insurance cover and hence there is dire need to popularize these schemes even in the urban geography. More tax sops for investing in health insurance policies will help the common man to cover himself better for medical emergencies and tertiary care treatment. The current limit of five lacs falls short many a times in metro cities for tertiary care. Cashless services will need to be streamlined further to make it more hassle-free for the end user.
Government is doing its bit by investing in the healthcare infrastructure of organizations like the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) and that will surely pave way for the organized sector to get their employees covered by medical insurance. Currently the scheme becomes mandatory if an organization have certain number of staff (20 is what is know off) below Rs 10,000 as salary per month. The infrastructure and administrative aspects in these hospitals surely need to be improved much more than what is available, but a start has been already made. The Armed Forces and Indian Railways are also getting into the act and modernizing their hospitals to come par with the private sector. That part capacity of these and more public sector hospitals should also be opened for insured healthcare especially in remote areas. Payment for healthcare by insurance mechanism is the ONLY way to ensure that citizens can afford treatment whenever illness strikes.
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