First the good news, Indian health care industry in the 1990s grew at a rate of 16% and today is worth more than $ 34 billion. Health insurance industry has registered a 20% growth in health insurance premium in December 2009 and is expected to cross a premium mark of Rs. 9000 crore in FY 2010 making health insurance industry one of the fastest growing industries in India.
Now, a string of bad news, the average health expenditure on a person per year is just $34, only 6% of India’s GDP is spent on health, number of hospitals per 1000 persons is 0.7 while the world average is 3.9, less than 10% of India’s population has health insurance while 80% of health infrastructure is provided by private sector making health care unaffordable to most.
So the current scenario has a growing population, poor State-owned infrastructure, no health insurance coverage for the majority, and due to over dependence on private health care, exorbitant medical expenses. Over and above this, increasing migration of people from rural areas to urban areas along with adoption of sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary choices and stress has led to the spate of lifestyle diseases in India. Today, there are 51 million diabetics in India and the number is set to rise to 73.5 million by 2025. Similarly there are 25 million people with heart disease in India and 15 million die of this disease every year. While the number of cardiac patients is decreasing in the world, 60% of heart patients in the world will be Indians.
The news is indeed grim but the cause of worry is not only the rate of increasing diseases but also the nature of these diseases, diseases like Heart disease, Hypertension and Diabetes are chronic diseases requiring a long term medication course along with the set of complications that they bring requiring expensive treatments. With a large population of Indians – rich and poor – suffering from these diseases, the total healthcare costs will skyrocket. In this scenario, we asked health insurance experts about their thoughts about the future of health insurance industry.
We spoke to K S Sankar, Member of Corporate Relations, Medimanage, with about 30 years of experience in Health insurance industry and Sudhir Sarnobat, co-founder, Medimanage, a ‘health insurance broking firm’ with ‘dedicated India centric health website’ about the future of best health Insurance in India in relation with the increasing lifestyle diseases.
How to cover the masses?
Even with the tremendous growth in the health insurance industry we find in a country of more than one billion people only 9.8% of people have health insurance. This leaves 90 % of the population to either depend on the Government hospitals with subsidized rates or paying on their own the expenses they incur in private health care clinics. With the public health care system failing, people have no choice but to depend on their own resources to pay for their health care.
Keys- Awareness and Affordability
K S Sankar says that health insurance can reach and cover the masses by being affordable and through awareness creation. He believes the first goal is taken care of; “The industry has demonstrated capabilities of creating affordable products like Universal Health Insurance, Jan Arogya Bhima, etc. So, making affordable products available is not quite a problem. The problem has been that of creating awareness and reach”.
These health insurance plans do have some very good benefits at a low price. The Jan Arogya Bima Yojana for instance – in a premium starting from just Rs. 70, reimburses expenses upto Rs.5000 in a year towards hospitalization as well as pre and post hospitalization expenses.
The issue, therefore, is more about creating awareness of such policies.
Brokers should market Health Insurance
For the lack of awareness about the health insurance policies Mr. K S Sankar, says the fault lies with outdated model of marketing still used by the insurance companies. The only saving grace he says is “introduction of professional intermediation through insurance broking”. However he adds “even this was kind of forced upon the industry than happening as an internally evolved strategy”. But he laments that, the current breed of brokers, except a few, are more interested in reaching into each other’s market than genuinely trying to create more awareness and create new markets.