• Sanskriti IAS - अखिल मूर्ति के निर्देशन में

Extending health coverage to ‘missing middle’

  • 19th November, 2021

(MainsGS2:Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.)

Context:

  • NITI Aayog recently published a road map document entitled “Health Insurance for India’s Missing Middle”.
  • The report confounds all hopes and expectations of a credible pathway to universal health coverage (UHC) for India.

Health insurance:

  • NITI Aayog’s report “Health Insurance for India’s Missing Middle” highlights that at least 30 percent of the population, or 40 crore individuals – called the ‘missing middle’ – are devoid of any financial protection for health.
  • NITI Aayog has suggested that the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) scheme be extended to cover a section of people commonly termed the ‘missing middle’ sandwiched between the poor and the affluent.
  • The report proposes voluntary, contributory health insurance dispensed mainly by private commercial health insurers as the prime instrument for extending health insurance to the ‘missing middle’.

Government initiatives:

  • The central government’s scheme, The Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), aims to extend hospitalisation cover of up to ₹5 lakh per family per annum to a poor and vulnerable population of nearly 50 crore people.
  • Apart from AB-PMJAY and State-level government health insurance schemes, small segments of the Indian population are covered under social health insurance schemes and private health insurance.
  • However, government subsidies will be reserved for the very poor within the ‘missing middle’ and only at a later stage of development of voluntary contributory insurance.
  • This is a major swerve from the vision espoused by the high-level expert group on UHC a decade ago, which was sceptical about such a health insurance model as the instrument of UHC and advocated a largely tax-financed health system albeit with private sector participation.

Ignoring the fundamental:

  • The NITI report ignores few fundamental precepts despite knowing that no country has ever achieved UHC by relying predominantly on private sources of financing health care.
  • Evidence shows that in developing countries such as India, with a gargantuan informal sector, contributory health insurance is not the best way forward and can be replete with problems.
  • International precedents of contributory social health insurance models show important traits for example, significant levels of government subsidy to schemes; not-for-profit mode of operation; and some important guarantees for health.

Suggested models:

  • The report has recommended three models for increasing the health insurance coverage in the country.
  • The first model focuses on increasing consumer awareness of health insurance, while the second model is about “developing a modified, standardized health insurance product” like ‘Arogya Sanjeevani’.
  • The third model expands government subsidized health insurance through the PMJAY scheme to a wider set of beneficiaries.
  • Though the third model assures coverage of the poorer segments of the missing middle population, premature expansion of PMJAY can overburden the scheme.

Out-patient care

  • The report acknowledges that OPD expenses comprise the largest share of out-of-pocket expenditure on health care, and concomitantly have a greater role in the impoverishment of families due to health-care expenses.
  • The out-patient department (OPD) care insurance coverage includes doctor consultations, diagnostics, medicines, etc.
  • The report proposes an OPD insurance with an insured sum of ₹5,000 per family per annum, and again uses average per capita OPD spending to justify the ability to pay.
  • However, the OPD insurance is envisaged on a subscription basis, which means that insured families would need to pay nearly the entire insured sum in advance to obtain the benefits.

Sharing the data:

  • The report has also suggested sharing of the government scheme data with the private insurance companies.
  • Government databases such as National Food Security Act (NFSA), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, or the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) for agricultural households can be shared with private insurers after taking consent from these households, the report said, suggesting an outreach strategy.

Expanding the penetration:

  • Rather than plot a pathway for UHC in India, the report is more about expanding the footprints and penetration of the private health insurance sector.
  • The NITI report defies the universally accepted logic that UHC invariably entails a strong and overarching role for the Government in health care, particularly in developing countries.
  • Further, the report looks to attain the elusive UHC with few or no fiscal implications for the Government, which is an absurd idea.
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