Solving affordability issues in healthcare

As India advances on its steep climb towards economic and social development, it is becoming clear that public health is a crucial stepping stone. The idea, that public health service should be as fully organised and as universally incorporated as our public education was strongly advocated by former US president Herbert Hoover in the early 20th century. Today, it is more relevant than ever as it reels under the influence of a flawed healthcare system.

Despite a relatively prosperous economic growth over the past few decades, we somehow have not successfully cracked the challenge of ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare for all. The problems of accessibility and affordability, though closely related, are not synonymous with each other.

One may have access to quality care, but may not have the financial means to make full use of it, a situation that is becoming all too common in Asia according to The Economist’s Global Access to Healthcare Index. Ours is a system that still has miles to go in terms of prioritising preventive care and general wellness over curative care.

Consider a scenario, where an uninsured pregnant woman is taken to the hospital when she is due to deliver. Meanwhile, a family member frantically handles admission procedures and signs the paperwork. After a slew of tests, the expectant mother, who was mentally and financially prepared for a normal delivery, is advised an elective C-section at the last moment.

Chances are that the family will scramble to put together a lump sum of close to Rs one lakh in cash, all out-of-pocket or as loans. They will soon realise that this method of putting together money fails them when their final bill arrives, owing to more charges in post-operative care and neonatal care. Even as the parents enjoy their newborn child, they are constantly bogged down by the financial strain that they had to endure in the process.

The case is almost identical, if not more complicated, in the treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancers, diabetes and cardiac problems as well. The impact of economic loss from non-communicable diseases by 2030 is projected to be a whopping $6 trillion.

Addressing India’s healthcare crisis will mean turning around the way services are offered to patients. It would augur well for the healthcare sector to take a leaf out of other industries’ practices, especially in the way customers are put at the epicentre of their service.

Be it hospitality, marketing, sales or banking, the emphasis is always on ensuring that the customer is effectively empowered to benefit from their services. If hospitals can replicate a similar ethos of going beyond just providing quality healthcare, they will not only retain their patients, but also find a great opportunity to solving the accessibility puzzle.

Fostering innovation

In India, healthcare insurance and loans are still yet to fully take off as the primary modes of medical financing. With a minuscule penetration of only 5-6% for private insurance, most of which is employer-covered, it is currently beneficial to only a small sample of the population. Hence, there is a vast majority that can be accessed with alternative models of healthcare financing as well.

If one considers the intersection of fintech and healthcare, in particular, there are huge possibilities to move towards alternative financing platforms that enable healthcare affordability. One such alternative is the systematic and personalised savings solutions.

Patients now have the option to save up their own money regularly and periodically for a non-emergency medical procedure that they have elected for. Patients can jointly design flexible savings plans with the preferred hospitals and obtain quality care based on the patients’ need and cash flow.

This method of payment not only benefits the patient with greater access to quality care with no liquidity constraints but also helps hospitals by providing greater visibility into future cash flows and reduces credit risks.

Time and again, illness has proved to be the biggest adversary to our overall progress. In addition to higher funding from the government and insurance coverage, there is a pressing need for healthcare to adopt game-changing financial technologies to provide greater access to quality care. The returns are likely to be infinite in the form of economic progress as well as basic human well-being.

(The writer is CEO & Founder, AffordPlan)

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Solving affordability issues in healthcare

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