Healthcare goes beyond the boundaries laid down by economics and markets. There is something about standing by those suffering with “ill-health” that makes us human. Fundamental strengths of human spirit are best harnessed when working for collective good and working together. Looking after and looking for each other in times of need is probably one of the most important aspect of the emotional bond that makes us human. In modern times, healthcare has emerged as probably the best mechanism that societies have at their disposal to protect this strongest of the bonds our species has. You lose it and our very existence is at stake.
At the same time, importance of economics and money as the dominant force running our lives cannot be challenged. Though health might still be regarded as more important than wealth, you need wealth to protect it. It is up to individual nations on this planet how they organize their resources but protecting the health of all its citizens has to be one of the aspiring goals of all governments. Europe is generally doing better than rest of the world in this regard and has shown the benefits of a strong publicly funded healthcare.
There is now plenty of evidence that publicly funded healthcare is cheaper and can be better if properly regulated and held accountable. National Health Service of United Kingdom is a good example. It is a service which is almost universally held in high esteem by members of public and has meant that only very few people feel the need to have any form of health insurance. It manages to recruit finest doctors and nurses from around the world not because professionals are paid obscene sums of money like USA but because they are valued and respected, because they can work freely without having to worry about marketing their services, because they can concentrate entirely on clinical work while an army of highly trained and committed managers and administrative staff ensure everything runs smoothly. In return, doctors are held accountable when things go wrong by very strong internal clinical governance mechanisms and a powerful regulator, “General Medical Council”.
That, this sort of publicly funded healthcare model must be better has been realized by successive generation of American politicians too. It has not gone unnoticed how American healthcare has just become a big business with various stakeholders and powerful lobbies. It is all far too evident in the resistance President Obama is facing in attempting to bring about some change to this status quo. Let us face it; America has some of the finest examples and institutions of healthcare in the world, but only for those who can afford it. This has divided the American society and the bonds of solidarity are becoming weaker. Individuals will only invest in building societies when society invests in them and by and large health and education are two aspects that individuals value most. If state can provide these two things, the foundation of a strong society are already laid. You restrict these to the people with means, and you will forever have a fractured country with little sense of common identity or emotional bonding.
These are some of the issues that face contemporary India more than many other nations on the planet. India is a sleeping giant that is just waking up and the path it takes will determine her destiny for a long time. She could go down the American path and sacrifice all that makes us human on the altar of market economics or preserve the emotional bonding of our race through the adoption of a state that is seen to care for all. India has a choice, but not for too long.
Dr Kamal Mahawar is a practicing general and bariatric surgeon. He takes keen interest in wider healthcare organization and delivery and regularly writes on these issues. He is also the chairman of Webmed Limited (the company behind academic publishing portals WebmedCentral and WebmedCentral plus) where he works to provide voice to biomedical scientists from disadvantaged background.