There is a trade-off between equity and quality of healthcare services, Augustine Peter, Former Member CCI

APN News, December 6, 2023

To celebrate the occasion of World Competition Day, Consumer Unity & Trust Society organised a panel discussion on “Regulatory Deficit in Access to Equitable Healthcare” under the broader theme of “prioritising socially sensitive sectors”, in partnership with CUTS Institute for Regulation and Competition and Institute for Studies in Industrial Development (ISID), in New Delhi. The event was marked by launching the 11th edition of the India Competition and Regulation Report (ICRR) on the “Regulatory Deficit in Access to Equitable Healthcare”, which delves into the regulatory aspects to various facets of the healthcare sector.

The healthcare sector is a crucial pillar of society, reflecting economic advancement when highlighting socially significant areas. During this event of the World Competition Day, CUTS seized the chance to support the Prime Minister’s goal of transforming India into a developed nation, “Viksit Bharat,” with a specific focus on enhancing the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical sectors.

In her opening remarks, Kiran N Meetarbhan, Former CEO of the Mauritius Competition Authority and Director, CUTS International, highlighted that a nation’s economic prosperity is intricately linked to the well-being of its citizens which is marked by their health status, a principle underscored in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Chairing the panel, Nagesh Kumar, Director, ISID, underscored the imperative of addressing the deficiencies within our healthcare system that were starkly revealed during the pandemic. While India successfully asserted its position in the global market by developing vaccines, there remains a considerable journey ahead to further advance and fortify its capabilities in this domain, ensuring readiness to confront any prospective health crises.

Addressing the conference, Augustine Peter, head of AP Regulatory Law Practice and former Member of CCI, emphasised the role of competition enforcement in improving healthcare access in India. He underscored the necessity of examining the availability, affordability, and accessibility of the healthcare system in a dualistic way, particularly for the underprivileged, to progress toward a welfare state. He highlighted the significance of regulations in efficiently utilising existing resources to minimise depletion and enhance consumer benefits within the healthcare sector.

According to him, “There is a trade-off between equity and quality of healthcare services. Much of the country’s GDP is focused towards the Indian tertiary healthcare system rather than strengthening India’s primary healthcare system.”

Arpita Mukherjee, Professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, ICRIER, had shed some light on the need of health insurances along with domestic and foreign regulatory barriers like fragmented pricing, that are stopping India from realising full potential with respect to medical tourism. She pointed out that India lacks holistic recognition and accreditation of medical services and medical human resources when compared to other developed countries in the world.

According to her, “India has tremendous potential for medical tourism but we failed to use important platforms like G-20 for strengthening our healthcare diplomacy.”

Ayona Bhattacharjee, Assistant Professor, International Management Institute had shed light on the regulatory framework and investment in hospitals and Pharmaceuticals in India, where she spoke on the importance of perpetual investments in promoting competition in both, domestic and international markets, contributing to the ease of doing business, as well. She highlighted India’s pharma vision which is aimed to be achieved by 2024, giving a new dimension to the global market and attracting higher investments in the Indian healthcare sector, as we aim towards shifting from volumes to value-based healthcare services.

In the panel, Associate Professor Reji K Joseph of ISID discussed reducing India’s dependence on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from countries like China. He stressed the importance of leveraging India’s API industry and the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to achieve this objective. Professor Joseph underscored the significant contribution of private sector enterprises in India’s public healthcare system, highlighting that SMEs produce 80% of the country’s APIs.

Dr. Priyanka Bajaj, Manager-Health and Innovation, PATH shared her views on strengthening primary healthcare of India in order to achieve universal healthcare which has been the aim of the Indian government through its Ayushmann Bharat Digital Mission. Talking on medical tech innovations, she mentioned that the pressing challenge currently is lack of information sharing.

According to her, “Regulations are not just a barrier but also one of the key drivers to achieve Universal Health Coverage in India.”

Navneet Sharma, Director General of CIRC, addressed the issue of persistent market dominance, “sticky market” posing a significant threat to the Indian healthcare system in the future. He stressed the urgent requirement for a robust competition policy akin to trade policies, highlighting the potential positive outcomes such policies could bring, such as enhancing the ease of doing business and ensuring easier compliance for consumers within the Indian healthcare system.

In conclusion, Ujjwal Kumar, Associate Director, CUTS-CCIER, flagged that competition enforcement alone is not sufficient and that a coordinated effort by the government, sector regulators and competition authority are needed to solve competition concerns in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector.

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