Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wharton India Economic Forum: Healthcare (India versus US)

On Saturday, March 27, 2010 I attended the 14th Wharton India Economic Forum. So I believe the event started in 1996 marking five years of liberalization of Indian economy. There was an impressive list of speakers. You had people from Private Equity, Information and Technology, Social Sector, Healthcare, and Education and Training. There also was panel of woman leaders talking about issues of glass ceiling at workplace.

In the morning, I attended the healthcare panel. I found the Sangita Reddy, (Director, Apollo Hospitals) had the most memorable insights. She pointed out the efficiency of health care services in India by comparing the back office & administrative costs in the two countries; 7 percent in India versus 25 percent in US. I am impressed that India has basically managed to keep the cost of a by-pass surgery stable for 27 years despite the high rate of inflation. She underscored her point by mentioning that Indian doctors were more willing to do a 'Beating Heart Surgery', a very complicated procedure that saves costs and has a greater probability of recovery. Apparently, 97 percent of heart surgeries are beating heart in India versus less than 10 percent in the US. You would think that a country as technologically advanced as the US would have adopted an advanced technique. This underscores the discussions about healthcare that I have with my friends, some of them healthcare professionals. They insist that in India doctors are more efficient and more willing to actually 'treat you'. My take on this has always been that a society with such a high instance of law-suits and 'do no harm' principle causes doctors to cover their backs first with multiple tests, before initiating any treatment. The inefficiency in the system is greater because the payment is made by a third party. Since the money appears to go from the insurance company's pocket, neither doctors nor patients are concerned about efficiency. Remember, your insurance premium is actually a 'sunk cost', money that you have spent anyway.

Bhargav Das Gupta, CEO and MD, ICICI Lombard talked about the new products to finance healthcare in India, especially for really poor people. The low penetration on insurance (less than 5%) is an opportunity for insurers, but the low awareness a huge challenge. Only yesterday I was reading how Indians do not care much about health insurance. There was the perennial subject of drugs patents and generics and branded drugs, and the long winded process to discovery of new drugs. What really stayed on with me was an interesting tit bit about ingenious water filters. Homi Khusrokhan, Advisor to Tata Healthcare explained how the Tata's successfully developed an extremely cheap water filter that removes 99.7% bacteria from water using burnt rice husk and nano silver, without power. On a personal note, I really liked Khusrokhan, the man had a wealth of experience with a really humble Lucknowi demeanor. The composition of the panel was extremely impressive. The organizers had ensured that there were representatives from delivery (Apollo), pharmaceutical (GSK and Excel life sciences) and the payers (Tata Healthcare, ICICI Lombard and GSK Venture), ensuring that all aspects of this complex issue are covered. I hope to write about other panels and speakers in my later posts. In the meantime you can have a look at the complete list of speakers & panel members here

Books Update: I am back to fiction for the time being. Finished 'Memoirs of Geisha' sometime back. Loved the portrayal and discovered few unknown aspects of the traditional Japanese culture