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A Quantum Leap Toward Universal Healthcare Or A Political Gimmick? Too Soon To Say!

Ayushman Bharat, an initiative to move from a sectoral and segmented approach of health service delivery to a comprehensive need-based healthcare service has been launched today. Cashless treatment from empanelled government and private hospitals is to be provided to 1075 million families. It is a bold attempt to provide immunity against financial losses from sudden medical emergencies to 40 percent of India’s households at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, 78 percent of which live in rural areas.

Amidst the hype of the enormous success of the scheme on day one, the discerning citizen is not convinced. Is this another fiasco like demonetization? Will it go the GST way, an excellent idea implemented so poorly that we have yet to see the beginning of it curbing corruption? Is it just a pre-election gimmick, or will Indians at the bottom of the pyramid finally get some relief?

With 85.9 percent of rural households and 82 percent of urban households having no access to any health scheme, and an estimated 6 million families sinking into poverty each year due to hospitalization, the dire need for some sort of medical assistance cannot be refuted.

What also cannot be refuted is that the scheme seems to be full of holes. The budget allocation for Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, the first component of the scheme, which will provide health protection, in 2018-19 is Rs. 2000 crore for 500 million people. The allocation of Rs. 12000 crore for creation of 150,000 health and wellness centers, the second component of the scheme, amounts to a measly Rs. 80,000 per center. Getting manpower, the right pricing for procedures so that quality treatment is provided, adequate infrastructure in terms of MedTech equipment, and utility items like hospital beds, testing facilities, upgrading and standardizing government hospitals, particularly in tier II and III cities and rural areas are some of the few glaring challenges.

The mammoth challenge thereafter lies in execution for which a non-corrupt, collaborative effort by all the stakeholders is mandatory. Are we asking for the moon?

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