When we talk about affordability, why do we not talk about affordability of medical treatment as a whole and not just affordability of medicine, for one or many ailments that the common man suffers from? Will our government try to address this bigger issue in a holistic way?
What could possibly be the reasons for such inaction? Is it because improper co-ordination, if not lack of co-ordination, between various Government departments, the ultimate victim of which is the common man?
Such a situation reminds me of an old story of three blind men and an elephant. After touching the trunk of the elephant, one blind man describes the elephant as a large Python, touching a leg of the elephant, the other blind man describes it as a pillar. The third blind man while touching the body of the elephant describes it as a strong wall. Unfortunately no one could describe the elephant as it really is and no one in this particular case was helping them to do so, either.
Could it be that various departments of our Governments are acting like these blind men and are not seeing the big picture – the elephant of the above story? It appears that the Pharmaceutical department of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers believes that only the price of medicines is the key issue for an ailing patient while going for a medical treatment and not the cost of total treatment. Thus, they seem to be working full time to drive down only the price of medicines.
The Ministry of Health is also trying to do a little bit of something in some not so known areas. The Ministry possibly believes that they are effectively helping everybody to address the pressing healthcare issues. It does not so appear that the Ministry realizes that majority of our population does not have access to affordable modern treatment for the ailments that they are suffering from. Number of doctors, nurses, hospital beds etc. per 1000 of Indian population is still abysmally low even compared to some developing nations. Cost of getting a disease diagnosed even before any medicine is prescribed is sky rocketing, at a break neck speed. Which Government department is trying to address the cost of disease burden and trying to alleviate it for all of us, in a holistic way?
Here comes another paradox. While the Pharmaceutical Department intends to bring down the price to make the drug affordable, the Finance Ministry keeps the transaction cost of medicines at a high level by levying various taxes to improve its revenue collection, ultimately making the same medicine less affordable.
In the developed nations and also in many emerging markets healthcare financing or health insurance for all strata of the society is being successfully implemented to address the key issue of improving access to affordable modern treatment to a vast majority of the population. Even after 61 years of independence we have not been able to address this critical healthcare financing issue effectively.
Piece meal approach of our Government has not succeeded much to address this important issue of the country. Taking one-off populist measures of various types and creating media hype may not help sorting out this issue, at all.
The way forward, very broadly speaking, is to bring the entire healthcare policy making and implementation functions under one ministry. If that is not possible, the concerned ministries should work in unison, with effective procedural interfaces being put in place for proper co-ordination with a clear goal of improving access to affordable modern treatment to all.
Is it not a shame on us that even today, 65% of Indian population does not have access to affordable modern medical treatment?
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.