Dr Vardhans Budget Rx: Universal health insurance, duty relief for life-saving drugs

Written by Gireesh Chandra Prasad | Gireesh Chandra Prasad | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 3 2014, 16:05pm hrs
A universal health insurance scheme that could potentially create a vibrant market for such insurance services, prohibitive taxes on all tobacco products and exemption from excise and customs duties for a clutch of life-saving drugs, vaccines and tax sops for domestic R&D for medical devices are among the highlights of the health ministry's wish list for the coming Budget.

The ministry, which has pushed for increasing the healthcare expenditure in line with the BJP's poll manifesto, is also giving a thrust to prescription of generic names by doctors for essential medicines. Drug promotional expenses that are added to the cost of branded medicines is the principal factor that make most medicines unaffordable to the masses.

Health minister Harsh Vardhan told FE the government will hold extensive consultation with states and insurance companies in designing a heath insurance scheme. Health is a state subject. We wish to develop a viable health insurance model and protocols that would provide access to basic healthcare facilities to a large part of the population. According to industry experts, only less than 15% of the over a billion population are currently covered by some form of health insurance including state supported ones.

The proposed scheme, which would be the largest scheme of its kind in the world, would be somewhat similar to US President Barack Obamas grand insurance-for-all project popularly known as 'Obamacare'.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of the US signed into law in 2010 seeks to raise quality and affordability of health insurance and to reduce the number of uninsured.

The Modi government will also focus on putting in place systems to prevent common diseases and to make basic healthcare affordable to people.

Vardhan, who as the health minister of Delhi encouraged doctors to write prescriptions by the chemical names of drugs, would promote the same policy at the national level at least in the case of 348 drugs called the essential drugs.

We would promote a policy of generic prescriptions to whatever extent it is possible, said the minister, indicating that it wont cover high end branded drugs, especially the patented ones, for which generic equivalents may be rare or may not be available. Implementing such a policy on a large scale may be met with resistance from producers as it could upset their brand building and marketing initiatives. Vardhan said he was also planning to rely more on traditional systems of medicine when he reviews the national health policy.