Health experts have asked the central government to expand nationwide a four-year-old cashless medical insurance scheme for injuries sustained in highway accidents, to address concerns that over a third of road trauma victims in India face financial distress from medical treatment costs.
The scheme -- launched in 2013 by the Road Transport Ministry along national highways connecting Gurgaon to Jaipur, Mumbai to Vadodara, and Ranchi to Mahaulia -- has provided free treatment to 88% of victims, reported Telegraph India.
"We see strong evidence of financial risk protection and we've recommended expanding the scheme to cover highways across the country," said Dr Shankar Prinja, associate professor in health economics at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, who led the team that evaluated the scheme.
The recommendation to scale up the scheme comes amid indications that India is still largely unprepared to manage its burden of road accident victims. Motor accidents killed over 146,000 people and injured over 500,000 in 2015.
A three-hospital study by Dr Prinja and his collaborators at the George Institute for Global Health, New Delhi, tracking 2,200 road accident victims, found that without insurance, such victims or their households spent on average INR25,000 (US$387) on treatment in the first month after the accident, while the average spending exceeded INR65,000 in subsequent months.
But the cashless insurance plan on the highways has made a difference. Even when victims had to pay for treatment, the analysis found significant differences in the out-of-pocket, or personal, expenditures on treatment between the victims covered by the scheme and those out of it.
Patients with the most severe levels of injuries covered by the cashless scheme had an average personal expenditure of INR8,500 compared to the INR25,000 paid by those with comparable injuries not covered by the plan.
The scheme, whose premium is paid by the central government, provides free treatment of up to INR30,000 to a road accident victim in a government-empanelled hospital.
"The INR30,000 limit is for now sufficient to cover most treatment services delivered in a secondary-level trauma care setting," Dr Prinja said. But patients with head or brain injuries will require tertiary-level treatment that costs more, he said.