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Bank glare on over-treatment

New Delhi, July 31 (Agencies): The World Bank today warned that excessive healthcare was becoming a serious issue in India, where people with private health insurance were two to three times likelier to be hospitalised than the national average.

It said many of these medical interventions delivered only marginal benefits and could actually harm the patients, especially the frail and elderly.

Among the leading factors behind the trend the World Bank has identified are: the culture of “more medical intervention is better”, “slavish” use of medical technology even when not necessary, and defensive medicine or “playing it safe” by prescribing additional tests or treatment.

However, excessive tests and prescriptions in India have another source: the kickbacks paid to doctors by diagnostic centres and drug companies.

The World Bank said the practice of excessive treatment could worsen as more Indians would be able to afford healthcare with the government ramping up medical coverage for poor households.

India, therefore, “urgently needs to… build in checks against this hazard, especially as it allocates a growing share of scarce public resources for medical insurance”.

However, the trend of over-treatment and over-spending the World Bank has identified does not give the full picture about India, where millions lack access to — or cannot afford — even the most rudimentary healthcare.

Besides, the prohibitive cost of medical care in India often brings financial ruin to uninsured families when a member is affected by serious illness. This is why the Centre is working on what may become the world’s largest health insurance programme.

But even though more than 63 crore people are forecast to have some form of health insurance by next year, more than half the country will remain uninsured.