In a significant announcement during his Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley declared two major new health initiatives under the government’s Ayushman Bharat Program.
One of the initiatives is the Flagship National Health Protection Scheme, which seeks to provide health insurance cover worth Rs 5 lakh per family to over 10 crore economically vulnerable families. Approximately 50 crore beneficiaries are expected to avail of this scheme.
“We are slowly progressing towards universal health coverage,” Jaitley said in his speech. He claimed that this scheme would be the “world’s largest healthcare programme.”
The second major initiative, which is reminiscent of the Delhi government’s Mohalla Clinics, is the creation of 1.5 lakh Health and Wellness centres, which will “bring healthcare closer to home.”
These centres are expected to provide diagnostic services and essential medicines. For this initiative, the government has set aside Rs 1200 crore.
Even though the public isn’t currently privy to the nitty-gritty details of these initiatives, the insurance cover scheme for over 10 crore families is potentially groundbreaking in a country, where only 27% of Indians have health insurance cover, and government spending on healthcare is abysmally low.
Considering the poor state of healthcare infrastructure, health insurance is a product that every Indian must acquire.
India’s health-related out-of-pocket expenditure, which pushes a significant section of the Indian populace into indebtedness and deeper poverty because of health ailments that necessitate high costs, is among the world’s highest.
As per a draft National Health Policy document, more than 63 million face poverty every year due to “catastrophic” expenditure over healthcare which neutralises rising income and critical government schemes that seek to reduce poverty.
Depending on how the government implements the Flagship National Health Protection Scheme, it could provide the necessary social security for the most vulnerable, thus ushering the country onto a path of a progressive developing economy.
Last year, the government increased the allocation for the health ministry from Rs 39,688 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 48,853 in 2017-18. This was a 23.1% increase in the allocation for the health sector, although the sums were lopsided in favour medical education that health cover.
The announcement of these initiatives dwarfs anything the government promised to deliver last year.