For some people today prevention is the only cure they can afford. Sreeram Viswanath examines the complexities, and issues that plague healthcare for profit, where money, not a doctor, saves the patient
Healthcare has the capability to care, to cure. No one is born with perfect health or the perfect fate. Every human should be freely given the option of seeking medical aid in times of injury, accident, or prevention of illness.
Instead, we routinely witness this scenario – people struggling under the pile of medical costs, borrowing money, selling assets, or rejecting treatment because they can’t afford it. When the United Nations too espouses the ‘Right to Health’, why are some people still subjected to the unfortunate decision of foregoing care to risk death?
The inglorious rise of healthcare costs
Healthcare costs have leapfrogged massively, evidenced by the fact that the average income has failed to keep up with it. As a result, hospitals and medical professionals enforce a severe burden on patients, with little or no regard for their financial strata.
Technically stated, we are afflicted with a poorly integrated medical system. The World Health Organization considers integrated health services as, “the organization and management of health services so that people get the care they need, when they need it, in ways that are user friendly, achieve the desired results and provide value for money.” Unfortunately, in the absence of necessary systems, patients pay beyond their means for healthcare, way beneath their civil rights.
Ironically, many medical institutions are no better off, facing losses of up to thousands of crores. This can be attributed to the overall ecosystem, where hospitals must make extra, unreasonable profits to ensure that they incorporate and maintain standard medical facilities. The system is rigged for all players involved.
The issue intensifies in developing countries, where in all fairness, governments routinely inaugurate schemes to benefit the underprivileged. In reality, however, only a tiny part of the population benefits from these welfare initiatives. Those who can afford medical insurance are often bested by the fine print on insurance contracts, for many of them do not compensate the customer for an emergency stating legal grounds that do not have a proper, reasonable establishment.
Developed countries like America may fare a little better thanks to initiatives such as Medicare, where citizens above the age of 65 or older are covered. But the many adults who cannot get themselves insured are left out in the cold, dealing with their illness on their own time, on their own dime.
Citizens of the UAE are reasonably well-protected, for they can pay a minimal amount for their healthcare or avail it for free. Expats may have to expend on insurance packages, but their investments are rewarded with quality health treatment and care. While expensive, these packages cover a wide range of treatments.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least half the global population do not have access to essential health services. More than 1 billion people deal with uncontrolled hypertension, and millions of women die due to pregnancy-related issues. The infants lucky enough to be born run the risk of getting affected by tetanus, pertussis, and other deadly diseases.
This begs the question, where are we with the advanced health ecosystem of the 21st century? People still have to choose between food and medical treatment, between life and death, and between death and financial bankruptcy.
Bridging the gap
Affordability of healthcare has become a major issue for all constituencies. There is plenty of opportunity to improve affordability as studies indicate up to a third of all health care spending is unnecessary. The challenge is in specifically identifying which services are unnecessary and the best approach to increase efficiency without sacrificing quality.
-Jim Whisler, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP
But there might be a daring solution. Forty-three countries are showing the way by adopting the Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC). This system ensures all residents of a geographical location are covered by health insurance, whether in the public or private sector. In addition, UHC includes health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care over an entire lifetime.
Germany was the earliest to implement this healthcare system when Chancellor Otto introduced a series of bills to ensure widespread healthcare needs across the country. Canada’s universal health system is funded through taxes, which means that all Canadian citizens and permanent residents can apply for public health insurance quite easily.
60% of Vietnam’s population, including 90% of the poor, is covered by state-subsided social health insurance. In Peru, budget-funded health insurance for the poor has significantly improved the health of women and children. These are just a few countries that are making affordable healthcare a reality.
Governments with foresight can chart the course of a healthcare system in which the disadvantaged are not left out of the periphery of quality health. Let’s work towards a future where an effective and affordable healthcare system is a reality that the entire world can embrace.