The National Health Policy 2017 has been approved by the Union Cabinet on March 15, 2017. Focusing on preventive healthcare, universal health coverage, and quality health services to all at affordable cost is the thrust.
With private sector as a strategic partner, public health expenditure raised to 2.5 percent of the GDP, access and financial protection at secondary and tertiary care levels, and other similar steps, the path has been defined to strengthen the health system of the country.
In order to provide access and financial protection at secondary and tertiary care levels, the policy proposes free drugs, free diagnostics, and free emergency care services in all public hospitals. The policy envisages strategic purchase of secondary and tertiary care services as a short-term measure to supplement and fill critical gaps in the health system. It seeks to achieve significant reduction in out-of-pocket expenditure due to healthcare costs, reinforce trust in public healthcare system, and influence operation and growth of private healthcare industry as well as medical technologies in alignment with public health goals.
The underlying success of the policy depends on filling the gaps in public health services by strategic purchasing from the private sector, which will need that the private providers be directed to make investment in underserved areas, for which currently there are few providers. Without a regulatory structure in place, it would be difficult to ensure that public-private partnerships or insurance-based purchasing would deliver on either health outcomes or financial protection.
The onus of implementing the policy is on the states, and the state sector health spending will need to be increased to more than 8 percent of the state budget by 2020. Infrastructure and human resource shortfalls, accreditation, controlled cost of treatments, getting robust health data, integration of AAYUSH by way of promotion of cross referrals, and co-location and integration of practices are only some of the challenges.
Execution is the key, but the irony is that even if the NHP 2017 targets are met, India will still be a decade or more behind what its South Asian neighbors have already achieved!