Fresh official data show the number of people covered by health insurance in India could be far fewer than estimated. Only 21.62 crore people, or 17 per cent of the total population, were covered by health insurance at the end of March 2014.
The estimate, prepared by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) and tabled in Parliament by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday, is sharply lower than that of the World Bank.
In a report it released in October 2012, “Government-Sponsored Health Insurance in India: Are You Covered?,” the World Bank estimated that over 30 crore people, or more than 25 per cent of the population, gained access to some form of health insurance by 2010, up from 5.5 crore during 2003-04. More than 18 crore of them were people below the poverty line, the report said.
Noting that health spending was one of the important causes of poverty in India, the report found that from 2007 to 2012, government-sponsored schemes contributed to a significant increase in the population covered by health insurance, at a pace possibly unseen elsewhere in the world.
On the basis of these trends, the report projected that more than 63 crore people, or about half of the population, could be covered with health insurance by 2015.
By then, spending through health insurance was also forecast to reach 8.4 per cent of the total health spending, up from 6.4 per cent during 2009-10.
The country’s public financing for health care is less than 1 per cent of the world’s total health expenditure, although it is home to over 16 per cent of the world’s population, the World Bank had estimated. Families meet almost 70 per cent of their health expenses out of their own pockets, placing considerable financial burden on poor households, often pushing them deeper into poverty, it said.
This was the World Bank’s first comprehensive review of India’s major government sponsored health insurance schemes undertaken in keeping with plans for significant increases in public spending on health care.