China in 1997 took its first reform measure to correct the earlier practice, when the medical services used to be considered just like any other commercial product, as it were. Very steep healthcare expenses made the medical services unaffordable and difficult to access to a vast majority of the Chinese population.
Out of pocket expenditure towards healthcare services also increased in China…but…:
The data from the Ministry of Health of China indicate that out of pocketl spending on healthcare services had doubled from 21.2 percent in 1980 to 45.2 percent in 2007. At the same time the government funding towards healthcare services came down from 36.2 percent in 1980 to 20.3 percent in the same period.
A series of healthcare reforms was effectively implemented since then like, new cooperative medical scheme for the farmers and medical insurance for urban employees, to address this situation.
The core principle of the new phase of healthcare reform in China:
The core principle of the new phase of reform is to provide basic health care as a “public service” to all its citizens. This is the pivotal core principle of the new wave healthcare reform process in China where more government funding and supervision will now play a critical role.
The new healthcare reform process in China will, therefore, ensure basic systems of public health, medical services, medical insurance and medicine supply to the entire population of China. Priority will be given for the development of grass-root level hospitals in smaller cities and rural China and the general population will be encouraged to use these facilities for better access to affordable healthcare services. However, public, non-profit hospitals will continue to be one of the important providers of medical services in the country.
Medical Insurance and access to affordable medicines:
Chinese government plans to set up diversified medical insurance systems. The coverage of the basic medical insurance is expected to exceed 90 percent of the population by 2011. At the same time the new healthcare reform measures will ensure better health care delivery systems of affordable essential medicines at all public hospitals.
Careful monitoring of the healthcare system by the Chinese Government:
Chinese government will monitor the effective management and supervision of the healthcare operations of not only the medical institutions, but also the planning of health services development, and the basic medical insurance system, with greater care.
It has been reported that though the public hospitals will receive more government funding and be allowed to charge higher fees for quality treatment, however, they will not be allowed to make profits through expensive medicines and treatment, which is a common practice in China at present.
Drug price regulation and supervision:
The new healthcare reform measures will include regulation of prices of medicines and medical services, together with strengthening of supervision of health insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies and retailers.
As the saying goes, ‘proof of the pudding is in its eating’, the success of the new healthcare reform measures in China will depend on how effectively these are implemented across the country.
Healthcare scenario in India:
Per capita public expenditure towards healthcare in India is much lower than China and well below other emerging countries like, Brazil, Russia, China, Korea, Turkey and Mexico.
Although spending on healthcare by the government gradually increased in the 80’s, overall spending as a percentage of GDP has remained quite the same or marginally decreased over last several years. However, during this period private sector healthcare spend was about 1.5 times of that of the government.
It appears, the government of India is gradually changing its role from the ‘healthcare provider’ to the ‘healthcare enabler’.
High ‘out of pocket’ expenditure towards healthcare in India:
According to a study conducted by the World Bank, per capita healthcare spending in India is around Rs. 32,000 per year and as follows:
- 75 per cent by private household (out of pocket) expenditure
- 15.2 per cent by the state governments
- 5.2 per cent by the central government
- 3.3 percent medical insurance
- 1.3 percent local government and foreign donation
Out of this expenditure, besides small proportion of non-service costs, 58.7 percent is spent towards primary healthcare and 38.8% on secondary and tertiary inpatient care.
Role of the government:
Unlike, recent focus on the specific key areas of healthcare in China, in India the national health policy falls short of specific and well defined measures.
Health being a state subject in India, poor coordination between the centre and the state governments and failure to align healthcare services with broader socio-economic developmental measures, throw a great challenge in bringing adequate reform measures in this critical area of the country.
Healthcare reform measures in India are governed by the five-year plans of the country. Although the National Health Policy, 1983 promised healthcare services to all by the year 2000, it fell far short of its promise.
Underutilization of funds:
It is indeed unfortunate that at the end of most of the financial years, almost as a routine, the government authorities surrender their unutilized or underutilized budgetary allocation towards healthcare. This stems mainly from inequitable budgetary allocation to the states and lack of good governance at the public sector healthcare delivery systems.
Health insurance in India:
As I indicated above, due to unusually high (75 per cent) ‘out of pocket expenses’ towards healthcare services in India, a large majority of its population do not have access to such quality, high cost private healthcare services, when public healthcare machineries fail to deliver.
In this situation an appropriate healthcare financing model, if carefully worked out under ‘public – private partnership initiatives’, is expected to address these pressing healthcare access and affordability issues effectively, especially when it comes to the private high cost and high quality healthcare providers.
Although the opportunity is very significant, due to absence of any robust model of health insurance, just above 3 percent of the Indian population is covered by the organised health insurance in India. Effective penetration of innovative health insurance scheme, looking at the needs of all strata of Indian society will be able to address the critical healthcare financing issue of the country. However, such schemes should be able to address both domestic and hospitalization costs of ailments, broadly in line with the health insurance model working in the USA.
The Government of India at the same time will require bringing in some financial reform measures for the health insurance sector to enable the health insurance companies to increase penetration of affordable health insurance schemes across the length and the breadth of the country.
It is an irony that on one side of the spectrum we see a healthcare revolution affecting over 33 percent population of the world. However, just on the other side of it where around 2.4 billion people (about 37 percent of the world population) reside in two most populous countries of the world – India and china, get incredibly lesser public healthcare support and are per forced to go for, more frequently, ‘pay from pocket’ pocket type expensive private healthcare options, which many cannot afford or just have no access to.
In both the countries, expensive ‘pay from pocket’ healthcare service facilities are increasing at a greater pace, whereas public healthcare services are not only inadequately funded, but are not properly managed either. Implementation level of various excellent though much hyped government sponsored healthcare schemes is indeed very poor.
Moreover, despite various similarities, there is a sharp difference between India and China at least in one area of the healthcare delivery system. The Chinese Government at least guarantees a basic level of publicly funded and managed healthcare services to all its citizens. Unfortunately, the situation is not the same in India, because of various reasons.
Over a period of time, along with significant growth in the respective economies of both the countries, with China being slightly ahead of India for many reasons, life expectancy in both India and China has also increased significantly, which consequently has lead to increase in the elderly population of these countries. The disease pattern also has undergone a shift in both the countries, mainly because of this reason, from infectious to non-infectious chronic illnesses like, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis etc. further increasing the overall burden of disease.
High economic growth in both the countries has also lead to inequitable distribution of wealth, making many poor even poorer and the rich richer, further complicating the basic healthcare issues involving a vast majority of poor population of India.
A recently published report indicates that increasing healthcare expenditure burden is hitting the poor population of both the countries very hard. The report further says that considering ‘below the poverty line’ (BPL) at U.S$ 1.08 per day, out of pocket healthcare expenditure has increased the poverty rate from 31.1 percent to 34.8 percent in India and from 13.7 percent to 16.7 percent in China.
To effectively address this serious situation, the Chinese Government has announced its blueprint for a new healthcare reform measures for the coming decade. How will the Government of India respond to this situation? It will indeed be interesting to watch.
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.