The Union ministry of health and family welfare has suggested an ambitious policy framework that envisages making health a fundamental right, besides offering universal access to free diagnostics and medicines in government hospitals.
While every Indian deserves a guaranteed health cover, the timing of the noble pronouncement is somewhat peculiar given that the Centre only recently decided to cut back on healthcare by 20 per cent. Public spending on health in India is already one of the lowest in the world; now the budget faces trimming by about Rs 6,000 crore to keep expenditure down to about Rs 30,000 crore this fiscal.
The cost of offering universal healthcare to a population of 125 crore and counting may require a budgetary jump to an ideal five per cent of GDP from less than two per cent at present. Furthermore, there is a manpower crisis in doctors as there are only seven allopathic doctors per 10,000 people currently, and a fair proportion of them is always trying to gravitate towards private hospitals.
Providing sufficient doctors to primary health centres in rural India and administering a corruption-free system is a mega challenge that it appears this is another policy which will be impossible to implement. Given the pace of the justice delivery system, to make the denial of healthcare an actionable offence would be to increase the workload of the legal system. This means the common man will simply continue to suffer. It may be simpler to put down achievable targets.