INDIA has introduced a major healthcare system that provides free coverage for half a billion of its poorest citizens, making it the biggest health insurance scheme in the world.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the scheme, dubbed “Modicare” on Sunday, covering the bottom 40 percent of the south Asian country’s 1.25 billion people ahead of the national elections next year, according to the AFP.
Under the scheme, 100 million of the country’s lowest income families will receive INR500,000 rupees (US$6,900) — a substantial figure in the country — in annual insurance to treat serious ailments.
Calling it a historic day for India, Modi marked the launch of the scheme by handing out medical cards out at the launch in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
The scheme, which was announced during the federal budget earlier this year, will cost the central and 29 state governments US$1.6 billion a year. The government said it would increase expenditure gradually according to demand.
“We want to strengthen the hands of the poor and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in pursuit of good health,” he posted on Twitter.
Expensive healthcare adversely affects the poor. Through PMJAY-Ayushman Bharat, we want to strengthen the hands of the poor and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in pursuit of good health.
That is why the scope of PMJAY-Ayushman Bharat is extensive. https://t.co/LEvVjO0Nnz
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 23, 2018
Modi said along with affordable health care, India’s government is also focussing on “preventive healthcare”.
“Emphasis is also being given towards enhancing human resource capabilities in the healthcare sector,” he said in another Twitter posting.
Most people with sufficient income use private clinics and hospitals as the country’s public health facilities were largely inadequate. However, a visit to a doctor in the country could cost INR1,000 (US$15) on average, which is an exorbitant figure for millions who live on less than US$2 a day.
The government estimates that 60 percent of the average family’s spending involves healthcare and medicines, but many among the country’s poorest live without healthcare.
An estimated 1.6 million deaths occur in the country every year due to substandard healthcare, according to a report by The Lancet medical journal released earlier this month.
Is this a ‘scam’?
Modi’s critics, in questioning the feasibility of the scheme, say the healthcare system was merely a political ploy.
Modi, who is seeking a second term in office, is riding on pro-poor policies to convince low-income Indians to re-elect him.
“This is going to be another scam. It will benefit only private insurance companies. The citizen of the country will realise later that it is nothing but an election gimmick,” Sanjay Nirupam, from India’s main opposition Congress Party, was quoted as saying.
But K. K. Aggarwal, a cardiologist and former president of the Indian Medical Association, said “politicking over the scheme should stop”.
“It has been launched, and it is going to be a game changer,” he said.