To India’s health: New health policy has some of the right emphases, but it must ensure outcomes

Responding to a situation where the average Indian pays 70% of healthcare costs incurred from his own pocket – this share is only 15% in Denmark, 18% in the UK, 52% in the US and 44% in China – the national health policy approved by the Union Cabinet last week plans to ensure universal coverage and quality services at affordable cost. To achieve this goal the plan wants to double public expenditure on healthcare to 2.5% of GDP. This is a necessary yet ambitious target; we don’t know as yet where the extra resources will be mobilised from. And it may not be a sufficient condition as government expenditures are notoriously wasteful. Alongside raising expenditures there must also be sufficient bang for the buck in terms of improved health outcomes.
In that context the added emphasis on preemptive care and wellness is welcome as it will not only curb healthcare costs but also ensure fewer people get seriously sick in the first place. The new policy hits the right notes when it calls for allocating more than two-third of the resources to primary healthcare and for providing most secondary care at the district level.
A major change in the new health policy health policy is the proposal to engage the private sector in securing national health goals by providing incentives to it. Many states, where health insurance programmes allow people to choose between public and private facilities, have already acted on this principle but it deserves to be taken further. Overall, together with greater health expenditures, the government must mobilise concerted action by different agencies on the health front, given that earlier national health policies of 1983 and 2002 have failed to deliver the mandated healthcare for all.