Rising Cost of Healthcare

A lot of talk surrounds the rising cost of healthcare in India. Multiple tests, hospital charges, expensive medicines can cause more deaths than any illness

Oct 9, 2010 13:08 IST
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A lot of talk surrounds the rising cost of healthcare in India. Multiple tests, hospital charges, expensive medicines can cause more deaths than any illness

While India’s healthcare costs look affordable to medical tourists, they are costly, almost prohibitive, to the average Indian citizen. The average amount of money spent on healthcare by a middle class family in India is Rs116.7 a month. For a poor family the monthly healthcare expenditure is Rs 202 – may seem like a measly amount, but it is 50 per cent of their monthly income.

One medical procedure can cost lakhs of rupees, sending the family of a patient into debt. 

Reasons of rising healthcare costs

Healthcare costs in India have risen because of the introduction of the latest in sophisticated technology and equipment. Two-three decades ago, in the absence of the latest equipment all the doctor had to do was examine a patient and prescribe medicines. Tests were done only if the patient’s illness was serious and the tests were very simple. Now doctors advise a battery of complex tests to ensure correct diagnosis.

After medical negligence cases have been brought under the purview of consumer courts, doctors have no alternative but to ask for the test reports before prescribing the preferable line of treatment. This has also lead to the over-recommendation of diagnostic services. Watson Wyatt, a global firm specialising in insurance and financial services, human resources, and employee benefits consulting reports in a survey, “In 45 per cent of the cases observed, major reasons for rise in the premium was advent of sophisticated medical technologies and malpractices like over-recommendation of services”.

The opening up of the private sector in providing healthcare has also contributed to the rise in costs. Apart from higher diagnostic charges patients pay more for hospital stay, doctor fees, nursing charges, and planned diet while seeking treatment from private hospitals. 

Another factor responsible for pushing up the cost of healthcare is the advancement in management and cure of diseases over the years with the help of modern technology, which is reflected in the improved life expectancy of the citizens. Life expectancy at birth in India was slightly below 60 years in 1990, 60-61 years in 2000, and 64.7 years in 2007. Inventions of new vaccines and medical equipment have helped in the cure for diseases and made managing diseases easier.

Higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates are indicators of the fact that more people are seeking healthcare putting a demand on its availability and hence pushing the cost upwards.

The impact of rise in healthcare costs

The same WHO study mentioned earlier has reported that 40 per cent of Indian families end up in debt due to high medical expenditure. 16 per cent of the families slip below the poverty line in order to save a member of the family.

Many poor people do not have access to costly medical treatment and precious lives are lost as a result.

The solution

Leading cardiologist and health expert Dr Narendra Trehan is of the view that ayurvedic treatment should be included in modern medicine to reduce healthcare costs. Ayurveda reduces the need for intensive medical intervention and hence keeps the health costs down.

Along with ayurveda, unani and homeopathy have been recognised by the Indian government as alternative forms of treatment. Though they may not be helpful in medical emergencies, they can prevent diseases. They can cure many minor diseases and lifestyle related serious ailments. These alternative forms of medicine come very cheap and should be considered as an option in health problems that don’t require emergency or critical care.

Cost of healthcare in India should be brought under control. Otherwise a majority of the Indian population will be deprived of a fundamental right – right to health.

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