Free health care plan gets PMO push

By: | Updated: 29 Feb 2012 10:56 PM

New Delhi: A meeting
called by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) today asked the Union health
ministry and the Planning Commission to take steps to help the government
offer free universal health care, as proposed by an 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 per cent of the GDP to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2017.

meeting also urged the health ministry to strengthen facilities across
primary and community health centres and district hospitals, in
preparation to roll out free diagnosis, treatment, and medicines for a
minimum package of services as recommended by a high-level expert group
(HLEG). The health ministry has also been tasked with developing a set of
standard treatment protocols (STP) that are intended to avoid any
irrational use of drugs after patients begin to receive free medicines
from government clinics.

During the meeting, the commission was
also asked to develop strategies to “motivate and incentivise” states
to increase their own funds as health is a state subject. “The
implementation of universal health care will hinge on states’ enthusiasm
for this idea,” said Selvaraj Sakthivel, a health economist with the
Public Health Foundation of India, who was not present at the meeting.

meeting also called on the health ministry to set up a central agency for
bulk procurement of drugs, a crucial step to facilitate the distribution
of free medicines for all through public health facilities. The ministry
has also been asked to help create additional human resources — doctors,
nurses, auxiliary nurses and midwives, and paramedics — to support the
proposed universal health care plan.

Public health experts say
the implementation of the plan is likely to be occur in phases. “We
expect that the distribution of free medicines could begin within six
months to a year — some states such as Bihar and Rajasthan have
established mechanisms that can support a quick roll out of free
medicines,” said Sakthivel.

Tamil Nadu is already distributing
free medicines through its public health system, he said. But public
health experts believe that the process of identifying private clinics and
hospitals that can be contracted in by the government to provide free
services is likely to be a “long-drawn process”.

private clinics would need to meet specific quality standards. However,
sections of the private sector have been opposing an independent plan by
the health ministry to establish minimum standards for private sector
health establishments.

The proposal for universal health care
made by HLEG to the commission in November last year emerged amid concerns
that spiralling costs of health care forced 40 per cent of households of
hospitalised patients across India to sell assets or borrow money to treat

The HLEG had recommended universal health care fully
funded by the state, covering a minimum package of services that would
cover common as well as major illnesses and all reproductive and child
health services such as pregnancy, immunisation, and child care.

minimum package of services may vary from state to state. HLEG members had
earlier said non-essential or prohibitively expensive services such as
dental implants or cosmetic surgery or liver transplantation were unlikely
to be part of the health package. The HLEG has recommended that funds for
universal health care should be primarily sourced from tax revenues.

-The Telegraph, Calcutta

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First Published: 29 Feb 2012 10:56 PM
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