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India officially launches its US$1.6bn healthcare programme

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has launched the country’s largest healthcare programme, which is set to provide essential healthcare coverage for ...

Catherine Sturman
|Sep 24|magazine13 min read

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has launched the country’s largest healthcare programme, which is set to provide essential healthcare coverage for up to 100mn families, totalling to over 500mn citizens.

Over 40% of India’s population fall below the poverty line (up to 63mn citizens), pricing them out of basic healthcare services. The country spends just 1.5% on its healthcare services, in comparison with countries such as the US and UK which remain much higher.

With many public services remaining understaffed and ill equipped, a private consultation can cost an individual or family over a thousand rupees (US$15). If a member therefore becomes ill, it can take years to pay off any potential bill for many citizens who work for less than US$2 per day.

Providing US$7,000 in insurance cover (500,000 lakh rupees) for each individual, over 400 districts have signed up to the scheme, costing 29 state governments up to US$1.6bn per annum, which will increase according to annual demand.

First announced in February and officially named Ayushman Bharat Yojna, the programme incorporates the transformation of up to 150,000 GP surgeries and community health facilities, so that they become world-class, government regulated “health and wellness centres,” which will be equipped with essential resources.

Secondly, the programme will aim to tackle the ongoing rise of private healthcare, with aims to offer higher quality services, tackle staff shortages and underfunding, with the additional aim to reduce overcrowding within each medical establishment.

Over 30 of the country’s 36 states have agreed to the programme, where investment in training and a new technological infrastructure will aim to transform the sector and enable healthcare professionals to provide world-class support to those in need. Private hospitals will also aim to support the scheme.

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However, Economist Venkat Narayana informed Arab News that the budget is still at risk of not supporting those in rural areas.

“My experience suggests that such a programme does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance could be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country,” he says.

Noting that the programme also does not extend to primary healthcare, but focuses predominately on secondary and tertiary services has also been recognised by many medical professionals.

Most interestingly, The Independent has found that the country has not alerted the majority of its target audience to the launch, understanding that the demand would be too high, too soon, before hospitals and medical centres were ready.

“We didn’t want to have a huge [public awareness] drive before our hospitals were ready and a fit scheme was in place,” commented Dr Indu Bhushan, formerly the top Indian official at the Asian Development Bank and now Chief Executive Officer, Ayushman Bharat: National Health Protection Mission.

“When we had a meeting with the prime minister four months ago, he told us not to have this drive because he didn’t want people to go knocking at the doors of the hospitals asking for services [from day one].”

It will therefore be interesting to see how the new healthcare programme will be utilised by its target audience when the required infrastructure, financial accessibility and demand is fully met and those in need are fully supported.