Free Universal Healthcare - Possible or Distant Dream?

Recently, a meeting was called by the prime minister's office to take steps to help the government offer free universal healthcare along with union health ministry and planning commission. This scheme was proposed to the prime minister by a high-level expert group last year.

The PMO meeting asked the commission to allocate adequate funds to enable the government's health spending to increase from the current level of 1.4 percent of the GDP to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2017.

John Bryant in his book, "Health and The Developing World" says that large numbers of the world's people perhaps more than half, have no access to health care at all, and for many of the rest the care they receive does not answer the problems they have. India has the same story as the world has as half of our population has no access to healthcare at all.

Now, the question is whether free universal healthcare is the answer to this problem?

Up until now, India had two national health policies, one in 1983 and then another in 2002. Primary healthcare was their prime focus. The goals and objectives of both these policies have not yet been fully achieved, though we had some success like eradicating diseases like small pox. The national health policy, 1983 stressed the need for providing primary health care with special emphasis on prevention, promotion and rehabilitation. The policy suggested planned time bound attention to few points like nutrition, water supply and sanitation, immunization programs, and most important maternal and child health services. We have failed in dealing with all these and that should be the focus area of our spending.

Today in India, 42% of our children below the age of three are malnourished that is twice than the sub Saharan African region. Only 25% of the population has drinking water in their premises and over 50% of the population needs to defecate in the open and has no access to latrines. Immunization programs have so far covered only 55% of our children. There is also a pressing need to add more vaccines to the EPI (expanded program of immunization), which are costly and may need more funds than anticipated.

Free universal healthcare is a very good idea, but may be very hard to implement due to lack of infrastructure and basic facilities and could encourage large-scale corruption since health is a state subject. We have seen that in case of NRHM. Our focus should be primary health, safe drinking water and sanitation, major thrust on immunization, and child health services. Our focus should be each malnourished child. There should be a system to monitor its growth until it completes a certain age. The child should get all round care for it to grow in a healthy way.

Instead of having a free universal healthcare plan, we can introduce a scheme that will guarantee any patient who has spent Rs 25,000 (including hospital bills or medicine) and still requires treatment, will automatically get free treatment thereafter, whatsoever may be his/her cost of treatment. Government of India should pay the bills after that threshold. Today cost of healthcare has gone up tremendously and average household cannot spend more than 25,000 in hospital bills. This will also eliminate the possibility of chaos that might occur with the free universal healthcare. The Rs 25,000 cost can also be brought down by encouraging affordable health insurance schemes.

Free universal healthcare sounds very nice, but there are certain negative aspects to it as well. We are a huge developing nation of more than 1 billion people with different medical needs than say any other developed country that have universal healthcare. UPA's image is already tarnished because of corruption, and they cannot afford another scam by way of universal healthcare. Let us hope this is not the case this time.

Hello, my name is Rajendra Kulkarni. I like to write about politics and current affairs. I write on any interesting, serious or controversial issues that deserves to be written and analyzed. Being apolitical, I try to be unbiased and honest about what I write. Please pay visit to my website: rajendrak-hottopic.blogspot