For journalists, there is no greater cause for joy than an impactful story. We feel we have achieved our life’s mission when governments sit up, take note and change policy or bring in a new policy to address an issue of grave public concern or a scandal that we have exposed. In the last few months, my colleagues wrote two cover stories: one on “Cardiac Crooks”, about cardiologists and hospital owners who indulge in all sorts of scams in the name of overpriced cardiac stents, and another expose of the medical device industry and the huge markups involved in the sale of implants, especially the artificial knee. First, the government brought in price control for imported stents and now it has capped the price for kneecaps. Beyond the pun, there is a great sense of purpose and fulfillment in seeing these caps in place.
But I am not celebrating the ‘Outlook Impact’ here because in the last fortnight 60 children or more have died in a Gorakhpur medical college of a purely treatable disease. And around 400 people died in Kerala of fever this monsoon season. Kerala is the country’s richest state in terms of per capita income and Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst. If fever can strike UP and Kerala and kill at will, there is something fundamentally wrong with our public health system. Be it the dismally backward UP or the scintillatingly progressive Kerala, our government hospitals are hellholes. Of course, we can always quibble over the comparative discomforts of one hell over the other. The tragic death of all these children and adults in UP and Kerala should be holistically examined and a new public health policy devised at the earliest.
I have a simple solution. Let us privatise all the hospitals. This mixed economy in healthcare will only breed corruption. We do not know whether the tragedy at Gorkahpur occurred because of stolen oxygen cylinders or not. But we do know that administrators of government hospitals do steal medicines and equipment and also make money offering private practice to government patients. So, why not privatise India’s public healthcare in toto instead of letting corrupt doctors, administrators and officials privatise them patient by poor patient or bed by miserable bed. If the question is how we would assure universal health care in the private sector, the answer is simple. All diagnostics at private hospitals should be made free for patients and paid for by the government. If a poor patient is determined to be sick, the government should pay him directly for treatment. The money should be deposited in his Jan Dhan account with which he can buy the best health care.
The first world had proven long ago that the private sector does work efficiently if it is regulated. Our ill luck is that here both the public and the private sectors are corrupt. So we have a mixture of corruption in the public sector and the private sector. The sense of entitlement and lack of accountability of doctors and administrators and the sheer number of patients would ensure the failure of government hospitals. These reasons push the better-off patients to private hospitals, but they only end up paying much more than they ought to for miserable service. The poor get ripped by the government doctors and the rich get ripped by the private doctors. A few of them need to be urgently sent to jail in both rural and urban India to set the house in order. Otherwise, the evil men in white will keep haunting this nation