India is world’s second most populous country, next to China and is expected to become number one by 2027. However, poverty and inequality are its major hallmarks. In fact, as per World Inequality Report 2022, India is among the most unequal nations in the world. In 2021, 22 per cent of the country’s total national income went to the top 1 per cent while the bottom 50 per cent earned just 13 per cent. One of the key indicators of this inequality is the health sector. A major chunk of the Indian population falls under the low-income category. This fact probably makes us believe that this might be the reason why health insurance is not something which ranks high in the priority list of most of the Indians. This becomes all the more startling because Indians are becoming more and more prone to serious health disorders like hypertension, cancer, obesity, anxiety et al. Everyone is very well aware of the fact that come any medical emergency and you are robbed of your hard earned savings. Then why this hesitance to health insurance by the Indians? Let us try to understand.
Health insurance is a financial instrument that covers medical expenses that arise due to an illness. These expenses could be in the form of hospitalisation costs, cost of medicines or doctor consultation fees. A health insurance policy extends covers medical expenses incurred owing to accidents, illness or injury. An individual can choose the premium payment mode as annually, monthly, half yearly for a specified tenure.
Illness is an uninvited guest. It can knock the door of anyone, anytime. And when it comes it brings trouble with it. God forbid, if it is serious illness, it leaves scars which are very painful and long lasting. It can drain out one’s even life savings. So, actually no one plans to get ill. But as said earlier, if it is bound to come, it will come. It is therefore wise to be prepared to face it upfront rather than fret over it and curse our luck. Any serious illness would send the different plans of life out of gear, be it child’s education, their marriage, buying an house or for that matter, even retirement planning. It is imperative that the sooner a comprehensive health insurance is taken, the better. A plan taken at young age reduces the annual premium amount to be paid. As the age increases, the premium also increases and beyond a certain age one may also not be eligible for any health insurance. And it is not a good news to consume.
According to National Sample Survey (NSS)’s 75th round of survey between July 2017 and June 2018, some startling facts on the state of healthcare among Indians were revealed. The published survey showed that 80 per cent Indians don’t have health expenditure coverage. The situation in rural India is even worse with 85.9 per cent without any coverage. The worrying factor is the increasing dependence on private health facilities as compared to public facilities. The cost of private treatment is many folds expensive and that translates into increasing indebtedness among the majority of Indians who fall into the lower & middle income category. The spiralling healthcare cost of private facilities is six times that of public facilities. In the given circumstances, the most judicious decision is to insure oneself and the entire family and retain peace of mind.
Having a good comprehensive health insurance is as important today as having good food and avoiding harmful lifestyle habits. As discussed earlier, the health insurance condition reflects a very sorry state of affairs, distressing to be more precise. National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), which is the country’s largest organization which conducts periodic economic surveys, indicates that the rising medical expenses has been one of the principal reasons for high level of indebtedness among the lower-middle and middle-class population.
Savings are Inadequate: Indians have a tendency to save. But the pattern of savings is something to worry about. The savings are mostly in the form of cash or cash equivalents, gold, future return investments and similar saving instruments. When it comes to health insurance, Indians have taken a big beating. Close to half of Indian population is not covered by health insurance which is a very scenario. That means we as a nation are not properly prepared to tackle medical emergencies. When such medical emergencies strike, people are forced to dig into their life savings, sell their assets, borrow or even take loans. In the absence of a health insurance, overcoming the financial challenges is very scary.
Inflating Medical Expenses: The medical expenses are sky rocketing with each passing year. A single visit to your local doctor makes your pocket lighter significantly, including the expenses on travelling and medicines. If it’s a medical emergency, then GOD save you. You enter a big hospital with a serious ailment, the chances are high that you would be suggested to get admitted for more personalized care and attention. Then would start the systematic long list of check-ups and tests. In just a couple of days you hospital bill would have easily added four zeros. By the time you are discharged from the hospital, you would have already been poorer by close to lakh rupees if not more. Now, you have to justify this expense in the name of “world class treatment in your neighbourhood”. It makes it all the more imperative that one should and must take a good health insurance to save oneself from such kind of medical loot.
Hidden medical costs: When someone gets admitted in a hospital due to any medical emergency, the patient’s final expected bill is anybody’s guess. On the face of it, the expenses in various categories of treatment would look different but when the final bill is generated, the real picture is very different. Reason behind this is the ghost of hidden costs. All put together the real medical burden on the patient is good enough reason to bring tears.
The life expectancy of a country tells a lot about the health of its citizens. The higher the number, the longer the citizens live in that country. In 2019, the life expectancy at birth in India was 69.5 years for men and 72 years for women. The raging pandemic has taken its toll and the life expectancy has come down by 2 years for both, i.e. 67.5 years for men and 69.8 years for women. We need to keep this fact in mind.
Another disturbing figure is the number of deaths during the pandemic. India recorded the second largest number of deaths in the world which is in excess of 5 lacs, next only to the USA. This figure must raise an alarm in those who take health insurance lightly.
The occurrence of chronic diseases is increasing very fast in India. Though the health infrastructure has improved quite a bit in the recent past but still the prevalence of diseases like hypertension, diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate. Better lifestyle has also given rise to lifestyle diseases. And they are moving northward.
Health Insurance is no more considered rich people’s choice who would love to flaunt one. It is the necessity of the hour and in a country like India, it is imperative to have one despite all odds. The choice is ours.