The Union Cabinet recently approved the launch of the National Health Protection Mission which was announced during Budget 2018-19.   The Mission aims to provide a cover of five lakh rupees per family per year to about 10.7 crore families belonging to poor and vulnerable population.  The insurance coverage is targeted for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary health care levels. This post explains the healthcare financing scenario in India, which is distributed across the centre, states, and individuals.

How much does India spend on health care financing vis-à-vis other countries?

The public health expenditure in India (total of centre and state governments) has remained constant at approximately 1.3% of the GDP between 2008 and 2015, and increased marginally to 1.4% in 2016-17.  This is less than the world average of 6%.   Note that the National Health Policy, 2017 proposes to increase this to 2.5% of GDP by 2025.

Including the private sector, the total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 3.9%.  Out of the total expenditure, effectively about one-third (30%) is contributed by the public sector.  This contribution is low as compared to other developing and developed countries.  Examples include Brazil (46%), China (56%), Indonesia (39%), USA (48%), and UK (83%) (see Figure 1).

Fig 1

Who pays for healthcare in India? Mostly, it is the consumer out of his own pocket.

Given the public-private split of health care expenditure, it is quite clear that it is the private expenditure which dominates i.e. the individual consumer who bears the cost of her own healthcare.  Let’s look at a further disaggregation of public spending and private spending to understand this.

In 2018-19, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare received an allocation of Rs 54,600 crore(an increase of 2% over 2017-18).  The National Health Mission (NHM) received the highest allocation at Rs 30,130 crore and constitutes 55% of the total Ministry allocation (see Table 1).  Despite a higher allocation, NHM has seen a decline in the allocation vis-à-vis 2017-18.

Interestingly, in 2017-18, expenditure on NHM is expected to be Rs 4,000 crore more than what had been estimated earlier.  This may indicate a greater capacity to spend than what was earlier allocated.  A similar trend is exhibited at the overall Ministry level where the utilisation of the allocated funds has been over 100% in the last three years.

Table 1State level spending

NITI Aayog report (2017) noted that low income states with low revenue capacity spend significant lower on social services like health.  Further, differences in the cost of delivering health services have contributed to health disparities among and within states.

Following the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, there has been an increase in the states’ share in central pool of taxes and they were given greater autonomy and flexibility to spend according to their priorities. Despite the enhanced share of states in central taxes, the increase in health budgets by some states has been marginal (see Figure 2).

Fig 2Consumer level spending

If cumulatively 30% of the total health expenditure is incurred by the public sector, the rest of the health expenditure, i.e. approximately 70% is borne by consumers.  Household health expenditures include out of pocket expenditures (95%) and insurance (5%). Out of pocket expenditure dominate and these are the payments made directly by individuals at the point of services which are not covered under any financial protection scheme.  The highest percentage of out of pocket health expenditure (52%) is made towards medicines (see Figure 3).

Fig 3

This is followed by private hospitals (22%), medical and diagnostic labs (10%), and patient transportation, and emergency rescue (6%).  Out of pocket expenditure is typically financed by household revenues (71%) (see Figure 4).

Fig 4

Note that 86% of rural population and 82% of urban population are not covered under any scheme of health expenditure support.   Due to high out of pocket healthcare expenditure, about 7% population is pushed below the poverty threshold every year.

Out of the total number of persons covered under health insurance in India, three-fourths are covered under government sponsored health schemes and the balance one-fourth are covered by private insurers.  With respect to the government sponsored health insurance, more claims have been made in comparison to the premiums collected, i.e., the returns to the government have been negative.

It is in this context that the newly proposed National Health Protection Mission will be implemented.  First, the scheme seeks to provide coverage for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary levels of healthcare.  The High Level Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission (2011) recommended that the focus of healthcare provision in the country should be towards providing primary health care.  It observed that focus on prevention and early management of health problems can reduce the need for complicated specialist care provided at the tertiary level.  Note that depending on the level of care required, health institutions in India are broadly classified into three types: primary care (provided at primary health centres), secondary care (provided at district hospitals), and tertiary care institutions (provided at specialised hospitals like AIIMS).

Second, the focus of the Mission seems to be on hospitalisation (including pre and post hospitalisation charges).  However, most of the out of the pocket expenditure made by consumers is actually on buying medicines (52%) as seen in Figure 3.  Further, these purchases are mostly made for patients who do not need hospitalisation.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.

In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.   

What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?

In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.

As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.  

Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)


Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.

If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.   

The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.

Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index

Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.

Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI



Food and beverages


Miscellaneous (including petrol and diesel, health, and education)




Clothing and footwear


Fuel and light


Pan, tobacco, and intoxications




Sources: MOSPI; PRS.

Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
between February 2022 to August 2022 (in percentage)

Subcategory of CPI

Average inflation



Oils and fats




Fuel and Light


Transport and communication


Cereals and products


Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.

CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.   

Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal.  WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.

Table 3:Assigned weights for the
calculation of WPI (in percentage)



Manufactured products


Primary articles


Fuel and power


All commodities


Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.

Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?

Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI.  For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation.  However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag.  This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not.  Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI.  An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.

We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.

Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index


Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.

Composition of indices

As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022.  They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.

The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.