Horses for Courses: Moving India towards Universal Health Coverage through Targeted Policy Design
The debate on how India’s health system should move towards universal health coverage was (meant to be) put to rest by the recent National Health Policy 2017. However, the new policy is silent about tackling bottlenecks mentioned in the said policy proposal. It aims to provide universal access to free primary care by strengthening the public system, and to secondary and tertiary care through strategic purchasing from the private sector, to overcome deficiencies in public provisioning in the short run. Yet, in doing so, it ignores critical factors needed to replicate successful models of public healthcare delivery from certain states that it hopes to emulate. The policy also overestimates the capacity of the public sector and downplays the challenges observed in purchasing secondary care. Drawing from literature in policy design, we emphasize that primary, secondary and tertiary care have distinct characteristics, and their provision requires separate approaches or policy tools depending on the context. Public provisioning, contract purchasing and insurance mechanisms are different policy tools that have to be matched with the context and characteristics of the policy arena. Given the current challenges of India’s health system, we argue that tertiary care services are most suitable for insurance-based purchasing, while the public sector should concentrate on building the required capacities to dominate the provisioning of secondary care and fill gaps in primary care delivery, for India to achieve its universal coverage ambitions.
Dayashankar Maurya was the lead author and conceptual architect of this paper. Both Dayashankar Maurya and Altaf Virani contributed to the development, drafting and critical revisions of the manuscript. All three authors participated in the writing and in responding to reviewer comments.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
No funding was received for the preparation of this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
Dayashankar Maurya, Altaf Virani and S. Rajasulochana declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
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