Despite the government’s thrust on health insurance schemes in India, a majority of the population continues to incur significant expenditure on healthcare. This has resulted in about 55 million Indians getting pushed into poverty in a single year because of rising medical expenses, as per a report in The Times of India.

Government aid is of less of help

According to a study by three experts from the Public Health Foundation of India, around 38 million of Indians fell below the poverty line due to spending on medicines alone as hospitalisation- based treatment, which is what most insurance schemes cover, constitutes only one third of India’s morbidity burden, noted the study.

It added that frequency of hospitalisation was smaller than outpatient visits in general, especially for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are chronic in nature requiring multiple consultations and long-term or lifelong medication and support.

With shrinking availability of free drugs in the government health system for outpatients and a sharper decline in their availability for inpatients, there was little incentive for patients to seek public healthcare, noted the study, adding that medicine-related expenditure for households remained high as most patients sought outpatient care in the more expensive private sector.

As for the government’s promise to provide cheap medicines through Jan Aushadhi stores, though the target of opening over 3,000 stores has been met, they have been plagued with frequent stockouts and quality issues.

Most Jan Aushadhi stores have barely 100-150 formulations instead of the promised 600-plus medicines and their numbers are too small compared to the 5.5 lakh plus pharmacies in India.

While the study looks at data up to 2011-12, it refers to measures taken by the government since then to reduce the expenditure burden on medicines and healthcare on households.

It noted that though the Drug Price Control Order 2013 brought all essential drugs in the National List of Essential Medicines under price control, these constituted just 20 percent of the retail pharmacy market and that the sales volume of many of the drugs brought under price control has fallen.

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