India Insight

Privatising public healthcare in India, one report at a time

Public health experts and activists are attacking a proposal by India’s leading government think tank that recommends handing many of the country’s healthcare responsibilities to the private sector.

The document, written by India’s Planning Commission, proposes eliminating the government as the primary healthcare provider. Instead, it would focus on specific areas such as immunisation and HIV testing. Getting rid of many of its other responsibilities would amount to a shortcut to its goal of universal healthcare. Patients would get private healthcare at a cost that the government would negotiate with the private sector, and service providers could be reimbursed for each medical prescription.

The proposal, which is similar to the managed care system in the United States, caused such a ruckus that some of the major parties who contributed to the plan have distanced themselves from it. Members of the High Level Expert Group set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, say that the commission has distorted their recommendations.

“Planning Commissions’ document calls for a ‘managed healthcare’ approach where the role of the government is reduced from a provider to that of a manager,” said Rakhal Gaitonde, a public health researcher and state coordinator for the government’s National Rural Health Mission in Tamil Nadu.

“Expert group’s report only calls for strengthening and expansion of public health system, and contracting private players to fill the gap in areas where expansion is not possible,” said Rakhal. “The commission in its proposal has distorted the recommendations of the expert group by portraying managed care approach as the best possible solution.”

Luxury toilet row raises stink for Indian govt

Every morning, Dharma picks up a bottle of water and heads to a field to defecate. His wife goes to a public toilet nearby. The 29-year-old cobbler has been living and working in India’s capital for over ten years now, but he still does not have a toilet in his house. Just like millions of Indians.

The employees of the Planning Commission, a government agency, are luckier. They can unburden their bowels in toilets that have been refurbished with a budget of 3 million rupees ($55,000). An additional 500,000 rupees ($9,000) has been spent in installing a security system that ensures only those with a “smart card” can enter.

The expenditure has some politicians and activists up in arms, with members of opposition parties calling it “shocking”.

India’s “armchair advisers” join Facebook

Screengrab of Planning Commission's Facebook page

India’s Planning Commission has put a 21st century spin on the way it advises the government on how best to spend its money — by going on Facebook and asking India’s 1.2 billion people to have their say.

The government panel, which dates back to the times of India’s planned economy and was famously panned as an “armchair adviser” by a sitting minister, has invited Indians to post suggestions on a dedicated page on the social networking site.

The page is named after the “Twelfth Plan” of expenditure which spans the five years to 2017, which the influential panel is in the process of formulating.