Healthcare costs in India are rising with every innovation made in the field. Feasibility issues are raised as specialised care continues to be beyond the reach of the common Indian man. National Rural Health Mission states that an average of Rs. 1 is being spent on the healthcare needs of the poor, while an average of Rs. 3 is being spent on the rich. While the country celebrates growth in technology, wealth and defensive prowess, it has ignored the very reason behind its ability to do so – good healthcare.
Health insurance in India should not be looked at as a means of tax benefits but as a necessity for continued well-being. An overview of the current state of health insurance in India opens a myriad of issues screaming for attention. It begs the question, ‘Are we doing anything about it?’ Yes, but neither is it enough nor is it happening fast enough.
Challenges to spreading health insurance awareness in India
As observed by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), the hardest challenge faced by our country comes from the ever-rising cost of medical treatments and services. It stated that Indians spend 58% of their total annual expenditure/savings on hospitalized care. According to their reports, over 40% of the rural population of India ends up borrowing heavily or selling their assets to cover medical expenses. NSSO concludes that the major cause for indebtedness amongst the poor and middle class is the escalating cost of medicine and medical treatments.
On the other hand, spreading adequate awareness about health insurance faces a major obstacle from the fact that people view it as a means of availing tax benefits. Though tax benefit is one of the major reasons for taking insurance, people should not downplay the importance of this insurance. Insurance is more than just tax exemption, and thus we need to possess necessary knowledge about how to avail and secure of wellbeing through health insurance policies and not just reviewing it as some tax saving scheme.
What are the major obstacles which are coming in between the health insurance awareness?
- The poor are burdened by the stress of existing loans making them shy away from even considering credit based policies that have been created to align with their interests.
- The sharpest spear of all is illiteracy. People lack basic education and exposure needed to understand the requirement and perks of availing health insurance in India.
- While technology has reached deep into society, people still lack the necessary exposure to important information issued in the national interest.
- The private health sector has made innovations by leaps and bounds in the last decade alone. This gives them the upper hand over the government-issued public health sector. The cost of specialised medical care provided by the private sector is too much for the poor and underprivileged masses to afford.
- Majority of healthcare professionals are centred on urban areas, leave the rural areas of the country vastly underserved. Moreover, public health care remains under-financed and short-staffed.
Measures were taken to curb challenges with health insurance awareness in India
The Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojna, a health insurance program launched in 2008 by the government to provide healthcare cover to Indians below the poverty line (BPLs) aimed at providing medical care to the underprivileged without burdening them with financial worry. Insurance companies and healthcare outlets associated with this program conduct regular health insurance awareness programs across the country. Since its establishment, over 130 million people have been insured, and over 36 million families have received smart cards aimed at providing free medical treatment. In an announcement by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Association (IRDA), they stated that “Lack of insurance awareness has proved to be one of the hurdles in penetration of insurance across the country. Therefore, to enhance insurance awareness across the nation, IRDA is celebrating its formation day as Insurance Awareness Day on April 19 involving all stakeholders of the insurance sector.” They have taken added measures to create further awareness about health insurance in India through their campaign ‘Bima Bemisaal’.
Despite a major 27% boost to the campaign, as announced by the Union Budget, 2017-18, analysts speculate the decision in comparison to the government’s other ambitions. They argue that the new and improved Rashtriya Swastha Suraksha Yojana is a minor improvement over the existing one. The upgrades include increased annual cover limit per family from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 and an additional Rs. 30,000 health cover for senior citizens. They urge the government do more in this matter.
While it is important for a country to develop socio-economically, the health of its countrymen should also go hand in hand. The nation is sailing smoothly over economic waters; however, it seems to be in the eye of the storm on the health goals front. Firmer insurance policies need to be introduced along with a strong financial push towards healthcare innovations in the public sector if the government wants to cover all 1.3 billion of its citizens. Meanwhile, private sector health insurance companies and healthcare brands need to take a more proactive educational rather than a sales approach towards explaining to their customers of the many benefits that come with buying health insurance in India. Right knowledge about the insurance process and its clauses could help the audience decode the fine-print and instil confidence in their purchase. Health insurance isn’t just another product on the market, and the private sector should take responsibility in assuring that health insurance in India is a promise of protection from future medical expenses.
Advt. no.: IA/MAY 2018/3978