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Focus on prevention and partnerships to make India healthy

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Preetha Reddy, Senior Vice President, NATHEALTH shares insights on how a healthy India is a prerequisite for a wealthy India

A year ago, presenting the interim budget, the Finance Minister had laid out a 10-point vision for India 2030. A critical dimension in it was ‘Healthy India’ and then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal had rightly pointed out that it would require us to work towards distress-free healthcare and functional comprehensive wellness system for all.

Indisputably, a healthy India is a prerequisite for a wealthy India. A robust healthcare ecosystem energises GDP growth, boosts productivity and creates an environment conducive for inclusive progress. An environment such as this would also attract larger investments into the country and provide opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

However, at first, the road towards it requires that we tackle the burgeoning prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), primarily heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and stroke, amongst many others. Almost 60 per cent of the fatalities in India are due to NCDs that are potentially preventable. An equally worrying aspect is that the prevalence of these diseases is affecting younger individuals in the most productive phase of their life. The NATHEALTH Aarogya Bharat Report estimates that NCDs could cost India $6 trillion by 2030. So, if India aspires to become a $10 trillion economy by 2030, it is important that we take up definitive and innovative steps to avert a setback due to NCDs.

Hence, in the budget recommendations, as a voice for the sector, NATHEALTH had recommended the launch of comprehensive nation-wide screening programmes. Over the last decade, preventive healthcare has evolved, and at present, artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be a game changer in assessing propensity of risk for a disease. It is important to note that several cancers including those of the prostate, breast and even cervix are curable, if detected at an early stage. Similarly, cardiac risk profiling and management can even reverse and significantly improve heart disease management. Hence, population-level NCD screening efforts are required among high-risk groups, followed by the enrollment of diagnosed populations in holistic care plans, including education and counselling on healthy living. Therefore, to initiate targetted health screening initiatives, the government must explore partnerships with the private sector in implementation of these programmes.

The health sector was also hopeful of an increase in tax exemption for preventive healthcare check-up from current Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000. It was also recommended that the government should consider reimbursements of diagnostics services in the outpatient setting as part of the insurance package and incentivise preventive check-ups by linking compliance to curative premium rates. These seemingly small measures would have huge impact in tackling NCDs and saving precious lives.

To achieve the goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), universal health insurance would be a critical component. Today, insurance coverage is very low that leads to quite high out-of-pocket spending for healthcare services. For an effective population health management, the government is expected to make health insurance mandatory in a phased manner and those excluded including self-employed professionals should also be covered. One major reason why health insurance has still not been able to penetrate India at a wider scale is that it is optional. The weaker section has been covered through the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PMJAY) or Health Insurance Schemes introduced by state governments. By making health insurance coverage mandatory for all citizens, better results could be achieved.

The healthcare sector requires huge investments to meet the rapidly growing demand. The policy reforms should focus on Private-Public Partnerships in all critical areas including NCD screening. To meet the financing requirements of the sector, the industry expected that the government would announce the establishment of some innovative funding models. NATHEALTH, on its part, has recommended setting up of the fund of funds like pension funds, investment route through PPP, long-term debt. Yet, another option is funding through business trust entity like Real Estate Investment Trusts, along with bilateral investment treaties.

In nutshell, with desired policy push or reforms, Indian healthcare would be well-equipped to move efficiently towards making of a healthy, distress-free and comprehensive wellness system for all as envisaged in ‘Vision 2030.’

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