Krishna, a resident of Mumbai, was told he needs a pace-maker, which costs about Rs 2 lakh. The 59-year-old, who works as a helper in a local mall, panicked. “My household income is barely Rs 8,000. I can’t raise such amounts just like that,” he said.
Krishna is not alone. Few lower-income Indians have health insurance or access to private medical facilities, and in such situations, many of them give up without a fight. But things are changing.
The healthcare industry has started a trend of making such expensive products available on equated monthly installments (EMIs). The model allows people to buy stents, pacemakers or other costly medical devices directly from the company, and pay in easy installments.
For instance: Minneapolis-based Medtronic lets patients pay as little as Rs 1,000 per month for up to five years to buy cardiac devices.
“The company provides loans for devices amounting between Rs 30,000 and Rs 8.5 lakh, and the assistance is available in over 100 hospitals. Some 430 loans have been disbursed since 2010,” a Medtronic spokesperson said. “If a patient is prescribed a therapy or a device and does not have cash available, financial assistance of up to 85% of the device’s cost can be provided. The company offers a 0% interest scheme for six months.”
US-based drug maker Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has initiated a pilot project to increase access to medical treatment of Hepatitis C. “The programme includes rural financial inclusion — extending reach to rural communities including those without prior banking exposure ... for patients who do not have the funds for treatment but can repay a short-term loan to fund the treatment,” an MSD spokesperson said.
In 2010, Tata Capital collaborated with Mya Health Credit, India’s first patient financing company, to facilitate low-interest loans for planned medical procedures. “Loans are given according to the nature of treatment and the credit profile of the patient,” a Tata Capital official said on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to media.
Some companies are innovating to reduce cost of medicines. “We follow a country-specific pricing policy and price our products as best suited for the country to help make our medicines and vaccines more affordable and accessible,” a GSK spokesperson said.