Considering a move to India? Well done! Giving serious thought to moving 8,000 miles from home, for whatever reason, is an act of bravery and an adventurous spirit – so for that alone, बधाई हो (congratulations).

Expats arriving in this country of 1.35 billion people can look forward to many incredible delights – but before you dive right in, it’s vital to make sure your healthcare is sorted.

If you want to be covered for all eventualities and get private health insurance, we recommend Cigna.

The company helps more than 95 million customers all over the world, and they have the know-how to get you the right cover too. Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

Indian healthcare: key stats

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    life expectancy
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    % of India’s GDP is spent on public healthcare
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    of people in India have health insurance

Overview of the healthcare system in India

India has a decentralised healthcare system, with the government supplying funding to its 28 states and eight union territories, who then provide services to their people.

The population’s right to health is codified in the country’s constitution, but historical underfunding and a lack of governmental action has made the reality more complicated.

India has the fifth-largest economy in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, with a GDP of $2.9 trillion – but the country only spends 1.28% of this on public healthcare, according to a 2019 Indian government report.

In comparison, the US spends 16.9% of its GDP on healthcare, which adds up to $10,586 per person – more than any other country in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The US fails to see good returns on that investment, ranking 29th in the world for healthcare, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – but India performs even worse.

India came 145th, finishing below some of the poorest nations on Earth, including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Cape Verde.

The Jaswant Thada and Mehrangarh Fort, India

The Jaswant Thada and Mehrangarh Fort at sunset in Jodhpur

What are your health insurance options in India?

As in the US, India’s central and local governments provide insurance schemes – but unlike in the States, it doesn’t stop at Medicare and Medicaid.

There are six main central government health insurance plans, and many other state-run schemes.

Make sure to check if your state offers insurance plans, even if you’re financially comfortable. You never know – Telangana’s government even offers a special scheme for journalists.

Public schemes are generally cheaper than private policies, but you’ll be at the mercy of long waiting lists and underfunded hospitals.

For instance, there are just 713,986 government-funded hospital beds in India, according to government data from 2019, or 0.55 beds per 1,000 people – about five times less than the US or UK, and less even than poorer countries like Bangladesh.

This lack of quality forces people to choose between more expensive private plans and going without insurance.

Many choose the latter option. Only around one-third of people in India have health insurance, according to the latest reports – and only one-third of those have private cover.

This places the burden of healthcare costs on the people, rather than the government. In 2017, 62.4% of healthcare spending in India was out-of-pocket, according to the World Bank.

What is the state of Indian healthcare?

The lack of public funding has resulted in a dearth of medical professionals.

Though there are 1.95 million doctors in India, according to 2019 government data, 800,000 of these practise alternative, non-evidence-based treatments including Ayurveda, Unani, and Homeopathy.

If you only consider evidence-based doctors, the number drops below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 people, to a worryingly low 8.57 per 10,000.

And out of India’s 36 states and union territories, only six meet WHO’s target, according to a 2016 report.

This may be partly down to the low wages on offer. The average salary for a doctor in India is 50,000 rupees ($660) per month, according to a 2019 study published in the US National Library of Medicine. 

The study notes that “these salaries seem fairly inadequate in India, with the cost of living for a family of 4 being nearly 84,000 rupees/month.”

The system isn’t working, shown by India’s average life expectancy of 69.4, which places the country 130th out of 186, according to a 2019 United Nations study.

American life expectancy is 78.9, nearly a decade longer than India’s – and that’s still low, coming just below Lebanon.

Is healthcare free in India?

Healthcare isn’t free in India, unfortunately.

If you want to be protected against potentially disastrous medical fees, you need to be insured – and if you want the best care available, you should go private.

You wouldn’t be alone, either. 36% of those who are insured in India have private coverage, according to The Commonwealth Fund, which means you’ll be going down the same road as 160 million other people.

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private medical insurance in India, we recommend Cigna.

With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs. Start building a customised plan today, with a free quote.

The future of the healthcare industry in India

Despite India’s growing economy, the country has still been slow to fund healthcare, resulting in a lack of coverage, doctors, and resources.

The good news is that it’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the country

There’s been a 370% increase in health expenditure since 2000, according to government data, and with a market of 1.35 billion people, there’s certainly plenty of room for growth.

In fact, the government has predicted that the healthcare market will be worth $372 billion by 2022.

The government is also moving in a positive direction, launching the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY) initiative in 2018 to provide free health coverage to the poorest 40% of the population.

And by 2025, the government is aiming to raise public health spending to 2.5% of its GDP. That would still be far lower than most countries, but would represent a nearly 200% increase from India’s current expenditure.

A traditional house boat is anchored on the shores of a fishing lake in Kerala's Backwaters, India

A traditional house boat floating gently on the Kerala backwaters

Healthcare standards in India

In many health categories, India falls horribly short for a nation with a $2.9 trillion GDP.

As mentioned above, a 2018 study in The Lancet ranked the country 145th for healthcare, placing India below its ostensibly poorer neighbours Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

India was given particularly low scores on the way doctors treated tuberculosis, neonatal diseases, leukaemia, and diarrhoeal diseases.

The report also pointed to geographical and class inequalities in terms of healthcare provision, noting that India had “large disparities in subnational levels of personal health-care access and quality.”

And if you or your partner are intending to have a child while in India, you should consider that the country has a child mortality rate of 30 per 1,000 births (or 3%), according to the World Bank – worse than countries including Syria, Rwanda, and Iraq.

There are many areas for improvement, but India is at least taking steps in the right direction.

The country has reduced maternal mortality rates by 77% since 1990, and though child death rates are still far too high, they have fallen by 57% since 2000.

Do I need private medical cover in India?

We would recommend you get private health insurance, in the strongest terms.

Though you should check with your new state’s authorities, you almost certainly won’t qualify for any of the public health insurance policies – and private healthcare is better anyway.

That’s why most people in India use private healthcare – just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of going without insurance.

Just because the majority (62.4%) of healthcare spending in India is out-of-pocket, doesn’t mean you should also risk being wiped out financially if disaster hits. 

That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in India. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.

Start building a customised plan today, with a free quote.

In 2020, nearly 500 million people across India were covered under health insurance schemes. Of these, most people were insured under government-sponsored health insurance schemes

ProsCons
Relatively cheapStill more expensive
Better quality of care
Shorter waiting lists
More privacy

How much does health insurance cost in India?

Health insurance in India is much cheaper than it is in the US, both in terms of its value against the dollar, and set against local wages.

A policy in India will rarely cost you more than 15,200 rupees ($200) per year for a family, and typically costs 5,500 rupees ($72) for an individual, according to comparison site PolicyX.

This is cheap, even when compared to the average salary in India, which is 209,676 rupees ($2,757) per year in urban areas, according to the 2017-18 edition of the quinquennial Periodic Labour Force Survey.

That means an individual will spend, on average, 2.6% of their wages on healthcare, while the average worker supporting a family will part with 7.2% of their pay.

US workers, in contrast, pay an average of $6,015 in premiums per year for family health coverage, according to a 2019 survey by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation.

The average US household income is $56,516, according to a 2016 US Census Bureau report – which means that a healthcare policy costs 10.6% of the average American family’s income.

Cost of health insurance for parents/family in India

The average policy covering you, your spouse, and one child will cost 13,500 rupees ($177) per year, according to PolicyX.

If you’re familiar with the US healthcare system, you’ll be delighted with this kind of price. The average American spent $10,345 per year on healthcare in 2016, according to a report on CNBC.

And considering that the average visit to a hospital in Punjab costs 29,779 rupees ($390.75), according to Quartz India, you may be tempted to just pay out of pocket.

After all, the average hospital stay in the US cost $15,734 all the way back in 2011, according to a report in The LA Times.

Resist the temptation, and get some private insurance. If you have some money saved from your time in the US, there’s no reason not to.

If you decide that you want to be covered for all eventualities and get private health insurance, we recommend Cigna.

The company helps more than 95 million customers all over the world, and they have the know-how to get you the right cover too. Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

Cost of health insurance for senior citizens in India

A senior health insurance policy will usually cost at least 100,000 rupees ($1,315) per year, and will typically set you back 300,000 rupees ($3,946).

This is closer to the average cost of healthcare in the US, but if you shop around, you should be able to find an insurance plan that’s right for you.

The cost of hospital stays and operations means it’s still more than worth it to get insurance if you’re over 60.

Summary

Indian healthcare is generally cheaper than it is in the US – which is why there’s every reason to get a policy and guarantee yourself low costs that you can budget around.

Armed with this plan, you can rely on private doctors to quickly give you the best level of care possible, whatever happens.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in India. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.

Start building that plan today.