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Falling Rupee May Push up Healthcare Costs: Experts

The falling rupee is badly impacting the healthcare sector with hospitals now finding it harder to import equipment essential for diagnosis and treatment of some serious diseases. With the rupee falling to a new record low of 72.92 to a dollar in early trading on Wednesday, health experts worry that the rising cost borne by hospitals may be passed on to patients, who may end up spending more on their treatment. “Many consumables, implants and high-end equipment like CT, MRI, and echo machines, besides surgical equipment in tertiary care are imported. Hospitals that are already paying a 12  to 18 percent GST on these imports, are now finding their cost even higher with the  fall in the rupee,” says Dr Manjunath, director of the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Science and Research.

Noting that the rupee has fallen by over seven percent against the US dollar since January, Dr Shweta, a faculty at the Institute of Health Management Research, warns it will push up medical costs too. “About 30 to 40 percent of a hospital’s expenditure is on medical equipment of which 80 percent is imported  and a fourth comes from the US,” she observes. Gadgets used for many common procedures in cardiology and cancer care, orthopedic implants and consumables used in laboratories are all imported, she points out. “Any increase in their costs will be passed on to patients and there is nothing they can do about it,” she regrets.

While experts says the hospitals can do nothing but increase their charges for patients to balance their own expenditure in the interest of maintaining quality, patients in India are already forking out a great deal on their treatment. According to an IndiaSpend report, Indians are the sixth biggest out-of-pocket (OOP) health spenders in the low middle income groups of 50 nations and these costs have pushed around 32 to 39 million Indians below the poverty line every year. The worry is that the present fall in the rupee could push more below the poverty line. Agreeing that the falling rupee will  burden  hospitals and in turn  patients, Dr Sachin Sinha, secretary, Narain Sewa Sansthan, however, says on the positive side, it could lead to a rise in medical tourism with more people from the West arriving in India for treatment. – Deccan Chronicle