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Private Healthcare Needs Encouragement Not Retrograde Regulations

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By Dr. Vinay Aggarwal

Under Article 21, Constitution of India assures quality healthcare to everyone in the country. Since independence our population has grown multi fold while healthcare delivery by our government could not keep pace with the requirements of the masses. As a result of this private sector participation increased and continues to share the majority of the burden. 
The government collects taxes & is responsible for providing citizens with basic healthcare needs. Sadly our successive governments have neglected the health sector. The budgetary allocation for health is very meager and out of the total expenses on healthcare, the government spends only a third and rest is mostly done by the private sector. 
While the basic health indicators like life expectancy, MMR,IMR and percentage of institutional deliveries have improved significantly over the years with involvement of both Public & Private Sector ; the private sector has been more focused in providing quality secondary & tertiary healthcare, government has done its job at primary level. 
Private players have also improved our international image through medical tourism by providing quality healthcare at affordable charges as compared to western counterparts where cost of treatments are very high. India with its unique advantage of having Qualified Medical Professionals,Trained Paramedics & Nursing manpower has the potential to become a global hub for Medical Tourism. This has helped in generating significant revenues for our Nation besides ensuring huge employment opportunities in the country. 
The recent observations of the Supreme Court of India asking the government to cap the charges of the Private sector will have disastrous consequences, because it may curtail private investments and lead to lower  contribution in Healthcare GDP where government contribution is still 1 percent while majority contribution comes from Private Sector. Affordable healthcare or subsidised Healthcare should be provided by the government but instead it continues to shy away from its responsibilities resulting in heavy dependence on the private sector. Management of the corona epidemic tells the story where the government had to depend heavily on the private sector.
Instead of focusing on improving the facilities in government hospitals; asking private hospitals to provide cheaper healthcare would finally lead to deterioration of standards even in private hospitals. This may lead to degradation of quality standards,reduced expenses on services, lesser focus on Academics & Research, latest technological advancements may also be curtailed for managing lower Cost Healthcare if the sector is asked to cap prices and finally may prove to be detrimental in long run.
Instead Government should focus on providing universal health assurances for maximum population coverage. Some steps like Ayushmann Bharat scheme are steps in right direction( with practical reimbursements)& need to be expanded. 
India is a diverse country and every citizen has the Right to Choose Quality Healthcare.  If private hospitals are forced to reduce their charges without any methodology ( costing in an academic manner)they won’t be able to provide worldclass facilities and treatments as investments will be curtailed.This will be detrimental for the overall growth of Healthcare Sector in the country besides denying the citizens the right to seek Quality Healthcare. We don’t want to create a situation in our country again when people had to travel abroad for seeking high end medical treatments. 
Every Citizen irrespective of his economic status must not be denied access to Quality Healthcare.The government needs to
Increase contribution towards overall Healthcare GDP & focus on improving the infrastructure of Government institutes that over the years have been neglected and mismanaged. This has led to reduced confidence of general public in availing government facilities who cannot afford private facilities. This was clearly evident in current pandemic where majority of public including all the politicians themselves were admitted in Private Hospitals while to deflect the public ire most politicians still continue to blame the private sector. These double standards are detrimental for the society and overall Healthcare of our country. 
Its important for the government to ensure comprehensive development of Healthcare sector where there is equal role for both Public & Private Hospitals to coexist.Let those who can afford and have insurance visit private hospitals for their needs and additional services while citizens from poor economic status seek reasonable healthcare at Government Hospitals. With the launch of universal Health insurance schemes citizens can even seek treatments at empaneled private hospitals. 
While respecting the sentiments of Honorable SC the government should ensure that every citizen is able to seek best possible healthcare by promoting Universal coverage of Health insurance to reduce dependence on out of pocket expenditures. We can turn it into a win win situation for all stakeholders and face future health challenges collectively. That is the need of this hour.
The writer is Recipient of Dr B C Roy National Award, Former National President IMA


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