The current NDA government ushered in a new hope amongst the Indians with its call for ‘health assurance’ replacing the traditional ‘health insurance’. According to the EY 2018 report on ‘Global analysis of health insurance in India’, only 20% of the 1.3 billion population in India is covered by some form of health insurance.
Along with maintaining fiscal prudence, the government faces the challenge of taking healthcare to the masses at the lowest cost andthus creating maximum positive impact. The agrarian crisis as well as middle class expectations are dual priorities which the 2019 budget may try to address.
However, with the finance minister indicating that this election year budget would go beyond its usual interim nature, there also lies an opportunity to assure health for all by exploiting technology resources. This could be the third high impact socio-economic agenda for the budget.
Lifestyle related non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes, stress and chronic respiratory diseasescontribute to 60 per cent of all deaths in India much ahead of injuries and communicable, maternal, prenataland nutritional conditions. Despite the increasing awareness of health insurance, affordability and accessibility have been the major issues which need to be tackled.
According to the GOQii 2019 study, almost 63 per cent of Indians feel that health insurance is a necessity. Further, with nearly 70 per cent of Indians willing to share data on their health status in return for lesser health insurance premiums, internet of things, artificial intelligence and big data analytics can play a key role in increasing health insurance penetration.
The Union Budget of 2019 can provide an instant fillip to health insurance by incentivising manufacture and sale of health wearable technology devices and biosensors. Similar to the boost provided to the education sector through distribution of laptops to students and the revolution in the communication sector through enhanced mobile connectivity, tax breaks on wearable health devices can stimulate the economic growth rate through social wellbeing.
Classification of smart health watches, bands and health tracking sensors in the lowest GST slab can transform the healthcare landscape ushering in a ‘health assurance’ revolution. Having a healthier India would also increase the productivity of the nation as a whole. Consequently, the preventive health scenario in India would be transformed as with low cost health bands, even the poor would be able to track their health like daily distance walked, heart rate,blood pressure level and such others and this self-monitoring and assessment would motivate them to keep fit as it has been motivating for the rich.
The health wearables industryin India grew at a CAGR of 75-100 per cent in the last 3 years but it still largely remains a designer luxury product. With the internet fiber network providing a boost to connectivity at the village level, the government can take its healthcare interventions using biosensors to the lowest strata of society which marketers view as bottom of pyramid.
With out of pocket expenditure on health being as high as 80 per cent in some areas, the strategic intent of the government to maximize its rural outreach through an extensive network of wellness centres can be complemented with the availability of centralized health monitoring enabled through digital technology. This will lower the state’s budgetary outgo on health and improve the health status of the society, thus serving dual objectives for the government.
The vital data thus generated can be utilised by health insurance firms for prudent underwriting, offer customised products and rationalize the premiums based on the health status of an individual. Increasing the affordability of health insurance by offering premium discounts in exchange for adoption of wearables can be a novel way to keep people healthy, avoid further tax exemptions on income and maintain fiscal discipline which have been the focus of the government.
Bishwajit Nayak is currently working as Senior Vice President – Health Claims and Networking at Future Generali India Insurance Company Limited.
Dr. Som Sekhar Bhattacharyya is currently working as Associate Professor – Strategic Management at National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai.
The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the authors and do not represent the views of the organizations they are associated with in any form.