Why Try To Reinvent The Wheel With So Much Of Hullabaloo?

A recent IMS study, apparently ‘authorized’ (whatever it means) by the Planning Commission of India has reportedly suggested various ‘ways to make drugs affordable in India’.

Though there does not appear to be anything new in the reported suggestions, the well publicized report could manage to snatch an eye-catching media headline: “Patented Drugs Cheaper, but Less Affordable Here”, for whatever may be the reason.

I wish I had an access to the full report for further enlightenment in this area.

Was this ‘authorized’ study necessary at all in the first place?

If the study were related to improving access to medicines in India, several questions would naturally come up, as follows:

  • What does “The study authorized by the Planning Commission” mean? Has the Planning Commission paid from the taxpayers’ money to get this avoidable study done? Or, has the study been done free of cost, as a favor extended to the Planning Commission of India on the issue, in lieu of authorization of the commission for quoting its name in the report?

Following the due process, it would not difficult to unravel whether the Government has made any payment for the study or not.

  • However, assuming that this study was done free of cost, it will be interesting to know what prompted the Planning Commission to even consider to reinvent the wheel with this new IMS study.
  • The reason being, the comprehensive report on the ‘Universal Health Care (UHC)’ dated November 2011 prepared by the ‘High Level Expert Group (HLEG), chaired by the Chief of the ‘Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Dr. Professor K. Srinath Reddy, is already pending before the Commission for giving shape to it working with all the concerned ministries. It is worth mentioning that the Planning Commission of India also had commissioned the HLEG study.
  • Instead of taking the UHC initiative forward, along with, hopefully, an expedited action of the Department of Pharmaceuticals to put in place a robust mechanism for patented drugs pricing, wasting time by moving in circles on the part of the Planning Commission in search of probably yet another ‘Eureka’ type report, would cost a great deal to the healthcare system of India. On the contrary, from the news report it appears that the findings or suggestions made in the IMS report are rather mundane, far from being anywhere near ‘Eureka’ type by any imaginable yardstick.

HLEG already charted the pathway for UHC in India:

The HLEG report has defined the UHC as follows:

“Ensuring equitable access for all Indian citizens, resident in any part of the country, regardless of income level, social status, gender, caste or religion, to affordable, accountable, appropriate health services of assured quality (promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative) as well as public health services addressing the wider determinants of health delivered to individuals and populations, with the government being the guarantor and enabler, although not necessarily the only provider, of health and related services”.

Ten principles for UHC in India:

Following are the ‘Ten Principles’, which guided the HLEG to formulate its recommendations for the UHC in India:

  • Universality
  • Equity
  • Non-exclusion and non-discrimination
  • Comprehensive care that is rational and of good quality
  • Financial protection
  • Protection of patients’ rights that guarantee appropriateness of care, patient choice, portability and continuity of care
  • Consolidated and strengthened public health provisioning
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Community participation
  • Putting health in people’s hands

HLEG study guarantees access to essential free health services for all:

Because of the uniqueness of India, HLEG proposed a hybrid system that draws on the lessons learned from within India as well as other developed and developing countries of the world.

UHC will ensure guaranteed access to essential health services for every citizen of India, including cashless in-patient and out-patient treatment for primary, secondary and tertiary care. All these services will be available to the patients absolutely free of any cost.

Under UHC all citizens of India will be free to choose between Public sector facilities and ‘contracted-in’ private providers for healthcare services.

It is envisaged that people would be free to supplement the free of cost healthcare services offered under UHC by opting to pay ‘out of pocket’ or going for private health insurance schemes 

Another Planning Commission commissioned report on procurement and distribution of medicines:

Another working group of the Planning Commission on health, constituted for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) headed by the then Secretary of Health and Family Welfare Mr. K. Chandramouli, had also submitted its report to the Commission.

The Part II of the report titled, “Provisions of ’free medicines for all in public health facilities …” recommends that health being a state subject, all the state governments of the country should adopt the successful and well proven Tamil Nadu model of healthcare procurement.

Tamil Nadu government through Tamil Nadu Medical Supplies Corporation (TNMSC) reportedly makes bulk purchases of drugs and pharmaceuticals directly from the manufacturers through a transparent bidding process, which reduces the cost of medicines to 1/10th and even to 1/15th of the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of the respective product packs.

As per this report, the total running cost of procurement and distribution for the ‘Free Medicines for All’ project during the 12th plan period would be Rs. 28,675 Crore and an additional allocation of Rs. 1,293 Crore will be required as one time capital costs. The contribution of the Central Government at 85 percent of the total cost would be around Rs 25,667 Crore for the entire Plan period.

Conclusion:

In July 2012, while talking on the above K Srinath Reddy Committee report on UHC, which suggests universal health insurance coverage, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia had reportedly said that the health sector of India would anyway receive a major shot in the arm in the 12th five-year plan with a budgetary allocation of 2 percent of GDP during the plan period. He also articulated that the country’s focus would be on cost-effective treatment and healthcare. For this, there would be a huge demand for human resources in the medical sector.

In the above backdrop, when two such excellent recent reports, commissioned earlier by the Planning Commission itself on improving access to affordable healthcare in India, are still pending before it for initiation of meaningful action with public knowledge, it is difficult to fathom what prompted the necessity for yet another Planning Commission ‘authorized’ study on similar area, with no seemingly earthshaking findings, as detailed in the media report.

This brings me back to where I started from, why is this particular attempt by the Planning commission to ‘Reinvent The Wheel’, yet again, and that too with so much of a hullabaloo, instead of diligently acting on the well crafted pending ones?

By: Tapan J. 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.

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