There are two kinds of hospitals one can expect to visit in India. In some hospitals, patients receive world-class care and medical opportunities. In others, they wait for an unspecified amount of time in an overcrowded facility with minimal options.
But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to change that.
On Aug. 15, Modi plans to announce the biggest government health care program in the world, according to NPR.
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The program will include a strategy to provide more than 500 million people with health insurance to use in private hospitals. This plan, called Ayushman Bharat (the National Health Protection Mission), would provide the poorest families in India with more than $7,200 per year.
Right now, there is a serious disparity between health care for the wealthy and health care for the poor in India.
India’s private hospitals are world-renowned — but they are accessible only to those who will pay for them or have employer health insurance.
For the rest of the country, free, government-run hospitals are the only option they have.
A patient named Shaheen Khan visited Sion hospital for gallstones in June. Khan told NPR that the hospital was so full that people were sharing mattresses on the floor. She waited for eight days until she was told it was best for her to go home and wait for a bed to open up. She is still waiting to hear back.
"They said, 'We don't have space in our hospital. There are so many patients, and there's a risk of infection spreading. So it's better for you go home,'" Khan told NPR.
Modi’s new health program is designed to help situations like Khan’s. A gall bladder surgery at a private hospital in India would cost between $435 and $3,000, according to to NPR.
If Khan could afford this surgery, she wouldn’t be waiting for a bed, and she’d be well and working again, NPR explained.
Khan is far from being alone in these circumstances. Government-run hospitals in the country are often overcrowded and lacking in necessities.
Still, it’s important to note that India has already managed to provide some level of free health care, and it’s possible health care is about to improve for many under Modi’s new plan.
Some argue that a better way to fix the government-provided health services would be to increase the public funding, instead of subsidizing private health services, as Modi is suggesting.
"The idea of the government funding health care, but the actual delivery being done by the private sector — I think is a good model," Ravi Ramamurti, author of Reverse Innovation in Health Care, a book on Indian hospitals told NPR. "The Indian public sector is pretty poor at delivering services. So to try to transform public health system is an enormous challenge. I think therefore, this is the lesser of the two evils.”
It is anticipated that Modi’s health care program will cost the government less than $2 billion per year.
This announcement could be the start of much-needed change in health care in India — and a step in the direction of achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well-being for all.