Medicine costs form bulk of out-of-pocket health expenses: NSSO

Out of all health expenditure, 72% in rural and 68% in urban areas was for buying medicines for non-hospitalised treatment, says a report


Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: Medicine costs continue to account for a large share of all out-of-pocket health expenses incurred by Indians, a new report showed.

Out of all health expenditure, 72% in rural and 68% in urban areas was for buying medicines for non-hospitalised treatment, according to the ‘Health in India’ report, which draws data from the 71st round of the National Sample Survey conducted from January to June 2014.

Data from the 60th round of NSSO, which was conducted in 2004, too had shown that 70% of out-of-pocket medical expenditure is on medicines.

The report shows the high cost of treatment ails India’s health sector the most and patients avoid health services even when needed. As many as 68% of patients in urban India and 57% in rural areas attributed “financial constraints” as the main reason to take treatment without any medical advice.

“When cuts in budgets happen, then the cost of maintaining the infrastructure and salaries has to be maintained. It is consumables like medicines that get hit. Then, there is an issue of spiraling of prices of medicines in recent times. All this contribute to high share of medicines in overall medical expenditure,” said Amit Sengupta, general secretary, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, India chapter of People’s Health Movement, a global network of health experts and activists.

Sengupta said the way out could be implementation of the central government’s scheme of free medicines and diagnostics in public health facilities. The central government approved the scheme in 2011. Different states are at different stages of implementation, from merely approval by state cabinets to implementing it on the ground.

Last month, Jammu and Kashmir became the last state in India to announce free medicines and diagnostics. Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan are cited as the most successful examples of states which have implemented the scheme.

In case of their inability to pay from household income, many depend on borrowings to fund their treatment. The Health in India report shows, in rural India, 25% patients relied on “borrowings” for hospitalization and 68% on household income and savings. In urban India, 18% patients had to borrow while admitted in hospital and 75% relied on income or savings.