Narayanan Devadasan et al
Health Research Policy and Systems 2013, 11:29 doi:10.1186/1478-4505-11-29
India’s health expenditure is met mostly by households through out-of-pocket (OOP) payments at the time of illness. To protect poor families, the Indian government launched a national health insurance scheme (RSBY). Those below the national poverty line (BPL) are eligible to join the RSBY. The premium is heavily subsidised by the government. The enrolled members receive a card and can avail of free hospitalisation care up to a maximum of US$ 600 per family per year. The hospitals are reimbursed by the insurance companies. The objective of our study was to analyse the extent to which RSBY contributes to universal health coverage by protecting families from making OOP payments.
A two-stage stratified sampling technique was used to identify eligible BPL families in Patan district of Gujarat, India. Initially, all 517 villages were listed and 78 were selected randomly. From each of these villages, 40 BPL households were randomly selected and a structured questionnaire was administered. Interviews and discussions were also conducted among key stakeholders.
Our sample contained 2,920 households who had enrolled in the RSBY; most were from the poorer sections of society. The average hospital admission rate for the period 2010–2011 was 40/1,000 enrolled. Women, elderly and those belonging to the lowest caste had a higher hospitalisation rate. Forty four per cent of patients who had enrolled in RSBY and had used the RSBY card still faced OOP payments at the time of hospitalisation. The median OOP payment for the above patients was US$ 80 (interquartile range, $16–$200) and was similar in both government and private hospitals. Patients incurred OOP payments mainly because they were asked to purchase medicines and diagnostics, though the same were included in the benefit package.
While the RSBY has managed to include the poor under its umbrella, it has provided only partial financial coverage. Nearly 60% of insured and admitted patients made OOP payments. We plea for better monitoring of the scheme and speculate that it is possible to enhance effective financial coverage of the RSBY if the nodal agency at state level would strengthen its stewardship and oversight functions.