Whither health insurance?
The poor seldom benefit as they aren’t aware of their entitlements
Call it coincidence or a strange turn of events. But to run into cab-drivers on two consecutive days, both with a desperate need of funds for medical treatment certainly forces quiet reflection. Where are the government-run health insurances and programmes when needed the most?
The common refrain from patient families from poorer economic backgrounds is of not being aware of health insurances available to them. Most often, private hospitals do not tell them of their entitlements under Ayushman Bharat or the state-run health insurance. And why go to a private hospital when government-run hospitals promise treatment for free or subsidised costs?
The resigned answer almost always is, “no one cares for us at these hospitals.” On prodding for information, they narrate how people with limited funds are often “invisible” to staff in public hospitals and even if they do tend to them, there’s little engagement and even that is dished out like its a favour.
People are often asked to wait in long queues and come back the next day, after the wait. And if a CT scan or MRI is required, the patient would have to contend with long waiting lists because there are few machines, the existing ones are under repair or the staff has gone for lunch or worse on a month’s leave (this was an actual excuse one Mumbai-based government hospital had made to a patient family). And hospitals are woefully understaffed to have a replacement take charge. As a result, the patient is sent to a private hospital and is forced to spend ₹7,000 for a scan, to start with.
If indeed governments want to make their health insurance schemes beneficial, they need to make this information readily available to all patients entering the hospital. Maybe even have kiosks near hospital front-desks staffed with people who can explain to patients how to navigate the maze called health insurance.
There will be a deluge of help-seekers, and hopefully it translates into something meaningful like covering the patient’s medical expense.