India's Healthcare System Can Guide U.S.

India's Healthcare System Can Guide U.S.

I moved to New Delhi a year and a half ago from New York for a new job with a newspaper. When I arrived in India's capital, I figured if I was going to live in the country, I might as well get used to the food, the water and the bacteria that doesn't seem to bother too many natives. I ordered juices, ate cold salads and drank the un-bottled water that restaurants bring customers for free. But I learned the hard way there are better methods for adjusting your body to the new climate. Less than two weeks into my time there, I found myself vomiting at the foot of a 12th century monument, the Qutb Minar.

I had anticipated getting sick in India. Since I had elevated carelessness to the level of doctrine, I had almost guaranteed it. But it was something I hadn't prepared for. I had no idea how to navigate the Indian healthcare system. How would I find a doctor? What if I had to go to the hospital? How different from the American system would it be?

What I hadn't anticipated was that India's treatment would turn out to be so good. And cheap. Unless you happen to be one of the hundreds of millions of Indians who are poor and don't live in a major metropolitan area. The Indian healthcare system is an anarchic hodgepodge, with little insurance, little regulation and a range of services offered by hundreds of government-run, trust-run and corporate hospitals. The care it produced for me was fast, effective, courteous and cheaper than American medicine, even when adjusted for the lower cost of living. But that was the care it produced for me, a middle-class woman in the big city. As America considers healthcare reform, the Indian system is a testament to both the triumphs and the pitfalls of letting the free market heal people.

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