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The relevance of universal health coverage and its importance in India

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Even after 70 years of Indian independence, healthcare is one of the sectors in the country which is still underserved and has barely scratched the surface.

As per reports, while 78% of the Indian population resides in rural areas, only 2% of medical professionals are available in those areas. Also, the Government-Financed Health Insurance Schemes (GFHIS) often face challenges in implementation. 

As per National Sample Survey (NSS) 2014, only 11.3% of the bottom 40% (10.5% covered by government insurance) population has any insurance coverage. Given such a scenario, it is imperative that healthcare must touch the bottom of the pyramid if we are to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth.

India has embarked on an ambitious target of achieving universal health coverage (UHC) for all citizens during the 12th Plan period with a vision that everybody should have access to affordable health services in the country.

A high-level expert group on UHC was constituted by the Planning Commission of India in October 2010, with the mandate of developing a framework for providing easily accessible and affordable healthcare to all Indians.

But, much needs to be done and universal health coverage is still a ‘work in progress’. Currently, the Indian healthcare system is fragmented and lacks coordination among the different stakeholders involved in delivery of healthcare services. 

There is a considerable rural-urban imbalance in which accessibility is significantly lower in rural areas compared to urban areas. Public and private hospitals in urban areas have seen a steep rise in adoption of technology but these systems are disparate and use varied technology systems.

Consequently, patients’ health information gets trapped in silos, unable to be shared with other systems and establishments due to lack of interoperability.

The need of the hour is to ensure high-quality data by introducing a secure, digital system to maintain electronic health records (EHRs) in pre-defined standards. 

This digital, standardised platform would ensure that patients’ health information is available when and where it’s needed. Ultimately, this would bring a patient’s total health information together to support better healthcare decisions and more coordinated care.

Optum, the global services unit of UnitedHealth Group, can be an enabler for the integrated healthcare service delivery model that India needs to realise its mission to provide universal health coverage for its citizens.

Optum offers sustainable healthcare solutions through technology enablement, community engagement and an outcomes based service delivery model.

The two new initiatives announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley under the Ayushman Bharat Programme in the Union Budget 2018 provide the necessary thrust to India’s universal health coverage. 

As part of the initiatives, Mr. Jaitley announced a new flagship National Health Protection Scheme, providing a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh per family per annum for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. 

The scheme will reportedly cover 10 crore vulnerable families, with approximately 50 crore beneficiaries. The second is the creation of over 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres, which will “bring healthcare closer to home,” by providing comprehensive healthcare, including treatment of NCDs and maternal and child health services, under the Ayushman Bharat programme. A sum of Rs 1,200 crore has been allocated for these 1.5 lakh centres to provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services.

If we need to solve India’s healthcare problem at a ground level, we need to celebrate each day as World Health Day. In WHO’s 70th anniversary this year, World Health Day is centred around “Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere” and we hope the occasion is celebrated both in letter and spirit creating a lasting impact.

With Ayushman Bharat leading the way, there is a strong opportunity for India to put its best foot forward and prescribe the right dose of healthcare to those who need it the most.

 

This article appeared in Businessworld online.