Consumer Coalition building for Healthcare Reforms an imperative

New Delhi, May 24, 2011

A consensus seems to be emerging that civil society organisations need to join forces to evolve an effective and dynamic framework for healthcare regulation in the country, to expedite and complement government initiated processes. This was observed at a national policy forum on Evolving Consumer-friendly Healthcare Systems in India organised by CUTS here today, with support from Oxfam India.

Speaking at the occasion, Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS highlighted the fact that ‘Right to Health’ is a fundamental right of every Indian and should be ensured by immediate adoption and effective implementation of the Health Bill, which has been pending adoption for over two years now. He added that, if India is to achieve improvements vis-à-vis universal health coverage and come close to achieving the 2015 healthcare related targets of the Millennium Development Goals, there is an urgent need to highlight policy-areas that would require refinements and immediate (and effective) implementation. This is opportune, especially, considering that the Government is in the process of developing the blueprint of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) and resolved for greater thrust not only in terms of curative care but also in prevention.

Highlighting the profound contrast between public and private healthcare, Avinash Kumar from Oxfam India underscored that the variation in their relative performance is due to the approach often taken by the government in framing policies and initiating programmes in each of them. While policies that apparently enhance the performance (and growth) of the private sector are pushed through, those aimed at reforming the public health system often procrastinate. He added that consumers should evolve as claimants of right to healthcare, rather than remain its dormant recipients.

One of the issues resonated by a number of speakers was the loose nature of healthcare regulation in the country – and the need to evolve a dynamic outline in the interest of consumers. Addressing the meeting, Arun Jha, Joint Secretary, Department of Pharmaceuticals indicated that the Government is developing a standard treatment protocol and aiming to incorporate the cost of healthcare vis-à-vis such a protocol to curb the divergence that exists in healthcare pricing at the moment. According to a recent study a Caesarian section can cost anything between Rs 3,500 to Rs 50,000 in the country.

Renuka Jain Gupta, representing the Competition Commission of India encouraged participants to share instances that hint at the possibility of anti-competitive practices in the healthcare sector in the country. S Srinivasan from LOCOST urged CUTS to prepare a handbook containing explanations of the various sections of the Competition Act 2002 (especially the types of anti-competitive conduct that are punishable under its provisions) with illustrations gathered from the health sector, so that it can be used by health activists and researchers.

CUTS shared the findings of its research project undertaken in two states (Assam and Chhattisgarh) at this event. The study (COHED project) clearly demonstrates how consumers are affected by malpractices in healthcare, which seem to have originated from collusive arrangements between players in healthcare. These findings would be shared with stakeholders in the two states – and an action agenda developed for healthcare policy reforms in them.