Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, has stated that India’s health care sector is set for unprecedented growth as the Narendra Modi government’s Universal Health Assurance (UHA) programme will cause an explosion of demand by making medical treatment affordable for the millions who have been excluded for the past seven decades by prohibitive costs.
UHA is in the process of being finalised and will be presented to the nation within the current financial year, the Minister disclosed at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s 8th Health Insurance Summit.
“I have set up committees comprising the best possible academic, administrative and technical experts on public health, institutional strengths and weaknesses and, above all, health insurance. Their interim reports are with me and I can disclose at this stage that the future indeed looks good,” he added.
The health care sector of India is already growing at a CAGR of about 15 percent since 2011 and is today worth about $ 80-85 billion. Independent projections have put the turn-of-decade size in the region of $ 150 billion. But this could have been under-estimation as UHA was not factored in, he said.
“For instance, I am talking about 50 free essential drugs for all, which means demand on an unimaginable scale. What does this mean for India’s pharmaceutical companies? Will they be able to cope given their present, limited capacity utilisation? I ask them to tighten their belts if they want a share of the coming boom because the government will not compromise on quality standards and transparency,” the Minister said.
Apart from free drugs, there will be government paid-up health insurance cover for the poor and competitively premiumed health insurance for all. The private sector hospitals and clinics will benefit from far larger volumes than at present, thereby leading to massive spinoffs in terms of business and employment, the Minister stated.
Already private hospitals and nursing homes are welcoming patients covered by the Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojana (RSBY) because government backed insurance is translating into higher footfalls. Once UHA kicks in, the implications will be much more salutary, the Health Minister said.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “I believe that India’s health sector will see the same revolution as the one witnessed in mobile telephony in the early 2000s. Back then it was Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s bold decision to make incoming calls free which kick-started it. Industry contributed by introducing the pre-paid system for small subscribers. Now it will be Shri Narendra Modi’s UHA which will transform the health sector resulting in wide social and economic benefits. I invite you all to come aboard.”
The Health Minister said that just as millions of new jobs were thrown open by the mobile telephone revolution, the health care boom will stimulate a huge downstream. The MSME sector will be given special advantages because government will become the biggest marketplace for buying and selling of health care goods and services, he said.
He cautioned the private sector of the high benchmarks for transparency, quality and consumer protection in the evolving UHA. At the same time, the government is aware of its own responsibilities, he said.
“The Information Technology component in UHA will be so strong and tamper-proof that corruption and sleaze will be absolutely impossible. The consumer, i.e. the patient, will be treated as king. Anti-competitive practices and consumer rights violation will be dealt with through a regulatory body,” he stated.
One of the biggest challenges, Dr Harsh Vardhan observed, would be to keep up the supply of doctors and technical personnel. The present doctor to population ratio -1:1700- needs to be improved. A great number of technical personnel in diagnostics, radiology, etc. are also necessary, he said.
“The expansion of the health sector will be felt in Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) as well. The 21st century belongs to holistic medicine and I intend making AYUSH a way of life because most of the ailments with which people report to doctors can easily be treated by these forms of therapy. I have already formed a committee to suggest steps for expansion of holistic health care through development of protocols,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
The Minister disclosed that the government has already firmed up plans to give medical education a fillip. As far as possible existing district hospitals all over India would be provided with funds to add medical colleges to their campuses, he said.