Remember the family doctor who found roles in many a Bollywood film? The one, who would rush home with his big physician’s bag for an emergency. He would stand by the bed of the dying old, counsel folk to keep their anger in check to avoid cardiac events; chide children who indulged too much their sweet tooth. He earned the friendship, respect, and trust of families.  An American health management company, Aetna Inc., has pulled that doctor from the screen into the real world.

In December last year, Aetna made its first investment of Rs 100 crore to expand its subscription product in India, which offers primary care, discounts on pharmacy and diagnostic bills and most importantly, medical advice. Six months on, it claims to have 600,000 subscribers, growing at 50,000 each month. That’s unusually speedy given how slow private insurers have been at getting new customers.

It was also unusual when the $63-billion US major acquired the Delhi-based startup Indian Health Organisation (IHO) six years ago. This move had caught entrepreneurs and insurance companies by surprise.

Now, competitors have noticed, as have health tech companies such as 1mg, an e-pharmacy and Practo, a doctor discovery platform. While insurance providers plan products that cover primary, preventive and managed care; health tech companies are enthused to share their networks with them.

The industry body FICCI has estimated that the potential outpatient market is about 20 times the size of inpatient health insurance, constituting 61 million people who spend Rs 10,200 crore on doctor consultation, diagnostics and pharmacy bills annually.

Potential of outpatient insurance

The industry body FICCI estimated that the potential outpatient market is about 20 times the size of inpatient health insurance, constituting 61 million people who spend Rs 10,200 crore on doctor consultation, diagnostics and pharmacy bills annually.

This business is also very risky for insurance. An insurance company may find it easier to empanel large hospitals and reimburse their bills, but how is it to empanel myriad neighbourhood clinics, pharmacies and diagnostic centres? And how does it digitise and verify bills created there?

Financing outpatient primary health is lucrative for insurance providers but fraught with the possibility of fraud, which had made it look unviable so far. But Aetna devised a way, not by offering a traditional insurance product, but a simpler subscription route.

This did not happen overnight

It was a slow-burn. When multinational insurance companies such as Bupa and DKV were tying up with India’s Max and Apollo hospitals, respectively, Aetna entered India by acquiring IHO, a bootstrapped three-year-old business, for an undisclosed amount in 2011.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

View Full Profile

Subscribe to read this story

The Ken is the only business subscription you need. Questions?

 

Premium

  • 5 original and reported longform business stories every week
  • Access to ONLY India edition
  • Close to 250 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters
  • 4 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to ONLY Southeast Asia edition
  • Close to 200 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to all paywalled stories since March 2020
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters

Rs. 2,750 /year

$ 120 /year

India Edition
Subscribe Subscribe
Most Asked For

Borderless

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories

Rs. 4,200 /year

Subscribe
 

Echelon

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories
  • Bonus annual gift subscription
  • Priority access to all new products and features

Rs. 8,474 /year

Subscribe
Or

Questions?

What kind of subscription plans do you offer?

We have three types of subscriptions
- Premium which gives you access to either the India or the Southeast Asia edition.
- Borderless which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions
- Echelon which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions along with a bonus gift subscription

What do I get if I subscribe?

The Premium edition gives you access to stories in that edition along with any five subscriber-only newsletters of your choice.

The Borderless and Echelon subscription gives you complete access to The Ken across editions and unlimited access to as many newsletters as you like.

What topics do you usually write about?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics. We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

Our specialised subscriber-only newsletters are written by our expert, award-winning journalists and cover a range of topics across finance, retail, clean energy, cryptocurrency, ed-tech and many more.

How many newsletters do you have?

We are constantly adding specialised subscriber-only newsletters all the time. All of these are written by our team of award-winning journalists on a specialised topic.

You can see the list of newsletters that we publish over here.

Does a Premium subscription to your Indian edition get me access to the Southeast Asia edition? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

We recommend the Borderless or the Echelon Plan which will give you access to stories across both editions.

Do you have a mobile app?

Yes! We have a top-rated mobile app on both iOS and Android which allows you to read on-the-go and has some amazing features like the ability to bookmark stories, save on your device, dark mode, and much more. It’s really the best way to read The Ken.

Is there a free trial?

You can sign up for a free account to experience The Ken and understand our products better. We’ll send you some free stories and newsletters occasionally, and you can access our archive of previously published free stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

The vast majority of our stories, articles and newsletters can be accessed only by a paid subscription.

Do you offer any discounts?

Sorry, no. Our journalism is funded completely by our subscribers. We believe that quality journalism comes at a price, and readers trust and pay us so that we can remain independent.

Do you offer refunds?

No. We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Just write to us at [email protected] with details. We’ll help you out.

I have a few more questions. How can I reach out to you?

Sure. Just email us at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.