Feasibility of Health Insurance Companies buying equipment directly?

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Insurers to buy equipment

MUMBAI: After curtailing the list of hospitals eligible for cashless mediclaim, public sector health insurance companies are going further by proposing to order and pay for medicines and medical equipment themselves. They claim the move would help reduce the cost of medication and equipment by at least 20-30% in cashless claims, as hospitals are overcharging for the same.

The PSUs are planning direct tie-ups with suppliers of medical equipment and medicines. Once a hospital determines the equipment and drugs a patient needs, it would inform the insurer, which would order the items directly from the supplier and get them forwarded to the hospital.

An official in the General Insurance Public Sector Association said, "We are planning to work on the inventory management system so that items like implants and drugs can be provided to patients at a reasonable cost."

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Experts from Medimanage.com give their opinion:

Sudhir Sarnobat:

Sudhir Sarnobat from Medimanage.com

The insurers need to focus on their core competency of “Risk Understanding” & “Risk Underwriting” and should not get involved in service delivery. The insurer, by virtue of being a consolidated buyer, has every right to ask volume discounts for the services that they are purchasing & hence, they should ask for correct prices to be levied by the hospitals for the procedures undertaken.

The insurers should act more like a cost accountant wherein they should demand the detailed break-up of the charges by the hospital for a particular package. They then can identify the market prices of various consumables used during the procedure & identify the discounts possible thru’ volume buying. However, they should refrain from advising what doctors should “use” as that would be trespassing into another specialist’s territory.

Also, the insurers are neither equipped to handle the logistics requirements for these kind of interventions into the healthcare delivery system nor do they have the clinical expertise to make suggestions. These are the reason we think that this suggestion may not go through eventually.  

Purandar Bhavani:

Purandar Bhavani from Medimanage.com

This is a brilliant idea and it stops at that. The problem is who is going to make it work? How is it going to work?

Health care is a business and all most all service providers are there in it for making profits. Should one tell the other how much money to make? Should the insurers be bothered about how much money the hospital is making or their own bottom line? These are issues that can be debated forever.

The problem is most of the focus has been on how the hospitals are “overcharging” than how health insurance becoming unaffordable will impact the common man. Steps have already been taken by insurers by putting caps and co-pays to control claims but if these measures do not work, the premiums will rise and this cycle will continue and we could soon see a US like situation where you may not have food to eat but “pardner you gotta have your health insurance”.

In my view the insurers should not get into controlling healthcare delivery. Their job is to underwrite the risk at a price they deem fit. Having said this if we do not arrest this malicious cycle now there will come a time when the government will have to provide subsidies to consumers to be able to afford insurance.

If there can be low cost airlines and low cost housing cant there be low cost healthcare? It is possible and there are ways to do it.

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