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USA Views Indian Healthcare as a Serious Rival

USA Views Indian Healthcare as a Serious Rival

Friday July 06, 2012

Barack Obama's comment on Wednesday that Americans need not visit India for "cheap" healthcare has stung the political class and the medical community in the country.

Obama, who has been pushing for better and affordable healthcare in America, said at a community college in Virginia: "My preference would be that you don't have to travel to Mexico or India to get cheap healthcare. I'd like you to be able to get it right here in the United States of America that's high quality."

"Before we went on the path of 'you can go somewhere else to get your healthcare', let's work to see if we can reduce the costs of healthcare here in the United States of America. That's going to make a big difference," he said.

His remarks, made in response to a question on the high healthcare cost in the US, drew sharp reactions in India.

Taking umbrage to the word "cheap", health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "Affordable healthcare does not mean our medicine is inferior to any superpower. I would like to say our medicines are indigenous, they are superior, and superiority does not come by escalating costs."

The medical fraternity, too, took strong exception to Obama using the word "cheap" to describe the Indian healthcare system. However, it is not unduly worried about America's protectionist policies hitting the medical tourism industry in India. In fact, most top professionals feel Obama's comments are political in nature.

Dr Naresh Trehan, heart surgeon and CMD of Global Health, said: "Obama got elected on the promise of reforming healthcare in his country which is in a bad shape. But he has failed to do so. Healthcare is a hot topic in the US." He said people from advanced countries like the US come to India because the quality of medical treatment here is at par, at times even superior, and more affordable.

Dr H. Sudarshan Ballal, group medical director of Manipal Health Enterprises, echoed the view. " Cheap means sub- standard. It is definitely not the truth about healthcare in India. The medical care in many institutes here are on par with, if not better than, those in the US. The US medical system is quite messed up. People don't get appointments for long, costs are high, and a large number of people are uninsured. They have to put their house in order first," he said.

Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director of Apollo Hospitals, said Obama's comments were in a way an endorsement of the high quality of medical facilities available in India.

Some feel Obama's comments indicated his protectionist attitude, which in turn is an indication that the US is feeling threatened by India.

Dr Vinay Agarwal, president of the Indian Medical Association said Obama's statement need not worry India. " It only tells that US feels threatened by India as we are competing with them in providing quality healthcare at cheaper cost." He said people in the US are conscious about quality but are still choosing India because " all health technologies are available" here while the cost is 10-15 times less.

Dr Gopal Dabade, convener of the All India Drug Action Network, too, is of the view that " it is a "100 per cent" political statement.

"Obama's popularity has plunged and he has one more term to contest. So he has to make populist statements. And the emerging economy of India has been his favourite bogey."

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Tags: medical tourism, USA, affordable healthcare, quality healthcare, India

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