Inter-state disparities in health care and financial burden on the poor in India

Brijesh C Purohit
Journal of Health & Social Policy 2004, 18 (3): 37-60
Over five decades of independence, India has made rapid strides in various sectors. However, its performance in social sectors and particularly the healthcare sector has not been too rosy. Being the State's responsibility the healthcare has traditionally been influenced by individual State's budgetary allocation. Consequently inter-state disparity in availability and utilization of health services and health manpower are distinctly marked. This has implications for achievement of Health for All for the nation as a whole. Keeping in view the significance of studying inter-state variations in healthcare, this study focuses on the performance of healthcare sector in 15 major States in India. This is attempted through a comparative analysis of various parameters depicting availability of health services, their utilization and health outcomes. Our analysis depicts the prevalence of considerable inequity favoring high income group of States. In terms of healthcare resources, for instance, it indicates that the high income States hold a superior position in terms of: per capita government expenditure on medical and public health, total number of hospitals and dispensaries, per capita availability of beds in hospitals and dispensaries and health manpower in rural and urban areas. These parameters of availability have an impact on utilization levels and health outcomes in these States. A comparative profile of high and low income States as well as middle and low income States, both in rural and urban areas, reaffirms a greater financial burden in availing treatment at OPD and inpatient in low income States. In line with the higher financial burden and low per capita health expenditure, the health outcome indicators also depict a disconcerting situation in regard to low income States. These States are marked by lower life expectancy and higher incidence of diseases as well as high mortality rates. In this regard, demand as well as supply side constraints are observed which restrain the optimum utilization of existing health services. Among the low income States the main constraints on the demand side include illiteracy, malnutrition, and lack of infrastructure in accessing the facilities. Certain state specific supply side factors add significantly to under-utilization in low income States. In some of the States, however, corrective actions have been initiated to overcome the problem of the quality and low utilization of health facilities. In due course of time, it is likely that proper implementation of these measures may result in improved utilization level of existing health services, which may be useful to improve health status indicators. Nonetheless, overcoming the current levels of regional disparities in healthcare across three income groups of States may also require additional resources. The latter could be mobilized through assistance of donor agencies and appropriate mix of social and private insurance. Ultimately mitigating the problem of regional disparities in healthcare and protecting the poor and vulnerable from financial burden may require establishing and maintaining proper linkages between socio-economic development and healthcare planning.

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