Abstract

In the recent past the impact of structural adjustment in the Indian health care sector has been felt in the reduction in central grants to States for public health and disease control programmes. This falling share of central grants has had a more pronounced impact on the poorer states, which have found it more difficult to raise local resources to compensate for this loss of revenue. With the continued pace of reforms, the likelihood of increasing State expenditure on the health care sector is limited in the future. As a result, a number of notable trends are appearing in the Indian health care sector. These include an increasing investment by non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the hospital industry, leading to a spurt in corporatization in the States of their original domicile and an increasing participation by multinational companies in diagnostics aiming to capture the potential of the Indian health insurance market. The policy responses to these private initiatives are reflected in measures comprising strategies to attract private sector participation and management inputs into primary health care centres (PHCs), privatization or semi-privatization of public health facilities such as non-clinical services in public hospitals, innovating ways to finance public health facilities through non-budgetary measures, and tax incentives by the State governments to encourage private sector investment in the health sector. Bearing in mind the vital importance of such market forces and policy responses in shaping the future health care scenario in India, this paper examines in detail both of these aspects and their implications for the Indian health care sector. The analysis indicates that despite the promising newly emerging atmosphere, there are limits to market forces; appropriate refinement in the role of government should be attempted to avoid undesirable consequences of rising costs, increasing inequity and consumer exploitation. This may require opening the health insurance market to multinational companies, the proper channelling of tax incentives to set up medical institutions in backward areas, and reinforcing appropriate regulatory mechanisms.