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Soaring Drug Prices, Confusing Bills, Rising Health Costs! What’s A Consumer To Do?

When Sheetal had her younger son admitted to a good, private hospital following an intolerable abdominal pain, she admitted to also have lost more about 1/3rd of her savings so far in that 15 days her son was in the hospital. Many can relate to this situation and are not surprised! A taxpayer is always frustrated with the lack of health facilities or good healthcare available at affordable costs. Publicly run government hospitals in our country are not trusted; not with the unhygienic state of the wards, outdated equipment and dirty linen.

With India spending only about 1.3% of  GDP on health, which is actually one of the lowest rates in the world, availability of good facilities to all citizens alike without much discrepancy is still a distant dream. There is a stark difference in affordability of good healthcare between the rich and the poor! Government-run hospitals fall short in light of the country’s scaling population and are always overburdened; add corruption to it and the case is entirely lost. Result? Improper management, lack of beds and other facilities and unreliable healthcare.

The problems:

1.Low expenditure by government on health

As seen already, India spends very low amounts on healthcare for public. It could be the size of the population that is in question, but the budget and its implementation is also to blame. A survey by National Health Accounts (NHA) in 2014-15 showed that households spent about 42% of their out-of-pocket spending in buying medicines. This out-of-pocket spending indicates the money that people spend on their own rather than getting covered under insurance or health benefits by government. It makes for about 62% of total money spent on health and is a really disturbing number! It brings a huge financial burden on families and many try to avoid it leading to more dangerous situations. Moreover, health expenditure is responsible for a huge number of households being pushed towards poverty and debts.

2.Insufficient Infrastructure

Even with the amount of budget allocated to healthcare, long paperwork, corruption and slow progression of implementation highly affects the availability of good quality facilities and infrastructure in public-run hospitals. A huge demand of the facilities by the population too affects its availability for all. Lack of beds and patients lying in the corridors of government hospitals is a common sight. Age-old diagnostic instruments and lack of advanced machines pushes doctors to recommend patients to get tests and scans done at privately run centres which adds to the price the patient needs to pay.

3.Corruption 

Healthcare sector in India is one of the most distrusted sections of the society today. It is an undeniable reality and is a serious ethical issue! Starting from donations and fees at the medical colleges to finding work in hospitals or setting up a clinic, doctors in the making too are charged unimaginable amounts and end up getting corrupted in trying to make profits. Hospitals are no less in business like any other industry and try to make things as expensive as possible once a patient gets admitted. Insurance companies are another sector that make huge profits owing to the fact of how expensive healthcare has become. Since health issues come untimely and are such a huge expenditure in our country, people start looking for health covers and end up paying chunky premiums and not really fall sick or require treatment all the time. An average consumer is charged exorbitantly for tests, prescriptions and medicines! Patients are admitted for longer durations to increase their bed rent and nursing charges. More than necessary saline bottles, medications, gloves etc. are ordered and kept unused. All of these add to the patient’s hospital bills while they were totally unnecessary! Corruption in medical service is rampant and hard to counter, as patients are generally unaware of medical jargon and will not fight back when their lives are at stake!

4.Confusing bills

Coming to the most important section of this blog, bills! A lay person would not question the doctor or the treatment and when it comes to health, nobody takes a chance! Taking advantage of this mental state of a patient and his or her relatives, hospitals add a lot of hidden charges to the bills or outrageously charge for simple scans and tests. Some use blanket type coverage to bill patients although many services included in such a cover are not used. Overcharging at hospitals is very common and there are several patient advocacy firms which confirm that when these bills are looked into carefully and hospitals are questioned, many times a 10-20 fold difference in actual bills is observed. Such unethical charges in hospitals are hard to track until some patient tries to negotiate or sues the hospital over the charges.

5.Unethical practice by doctors

Doctors receiving kickbacks is not new to us. It is a widespread practice by doctors who refer innocent patients for tests, scans and even surgeries that they do not need. A range of tests from ECGs, MRIs, X-rays to sonographies are prescribed commonly when actually not needed. Patients who are unaware of such malpractices resort to taking loans or use up their life’s savings for nothing! The health cost of a simple flu too touches the sky with X-ray scans and expensive medicines added to it. A huge population of the country is unacquainted with the importance of medical insurance or do not have access to cheaper insurance plans. Not to mention, the stress that they go through when taking these often-dangerous tests. Due to such practices people have over time lost their trust and confidence over doctors.

Many a times hospitals may be responsible for pushing the doctors towards such unethical practices by not paying them enough or over-burdening them. Nevertheless, a complete overhauling of the system is urgently required.

6.Drug prices

Tampering with health industry in a huge way are the pharmaceutical companies and abuse of medications. Did you know that it is strongly speculated that blood sugar levels and range may be a big lie to promote sale of diabetes medications and increase the number of people suffering from diabetes? Tons of long term medications like cholesterol, thyroid, diabetes may generally be prescribed on the basis of range that have been lowered over a period of years to suit the sale of medications. The drug prices too soar over this period to meet increasing demand. Bigger brands price much higher for the same drugs while generic drugs cost cheaper. The government’s decision to decontrol prices of drugs used in treatment of AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and heart ailments earlier, had seen an increase of their prices by more than 10 folds. Anti-cancer drug prices had shot up and generally; medications have become a very big expense!

Cutthroat prices in healthcare are ethically wrong and a big fear especially in the lower strata of the society. Falling sick today is a great expense and without a revision in the policies, budget and health benefits, the overall health of the country is going to see a big downfall!

AB Hospitals is a disruptive healthcare business model wherein end-to-end transparency is maintained. ABH does elective surgeries like Hernia, Piles, Gallbladder, Uterus removal, Biopsies and minor surgeries. Their first smart surgery centre came up in Gurgaon.