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Modi guarantees will maintain thrust on Ayushman Bharat

The central government’s flagship health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat, is set to receive a significant boost as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday assured that ‘Modi ki guarantee’ for major decisions will be fulfilled in the third term, should the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secure another victory. Addressing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers at the party headquarters in the evening, Modi expressed confidence in the NDA’s success and outlined his vision for the future.

“Big decisions will be taken in the third term,” Modi assured the crowd, framing this as his personal guarantee. Highlighting the impact of his government’s policies over the past decade, Modi emphasised the unprecedented access to free healthcare provided under Ayushman Bharat. “After 70 years, our government has ensured free treatment up to Rs 500,000 for millions of people,” he stated.

Ayushman Bharat’s bold vow
AB-PMJAY is touted as the world’s largest health protection scheme, providing health coverage of Rs 5 lakh per beneficiary family per annum to over 50 crore beneficiaries. These beneficiaries were initially identified based on select deprivation and occupational criteria in rural and urban areas, respectively, as per the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) database of 2011 but later more categories were included. The scheme aims to provide financial risk protection against catastrophic health expenditure and is implemented in insurance, trust, or mixed mode as decided by the state or UT.

The scheme has been a cornerstone of the NDA government’s healthcare policy, providing a safety net for millions and significantly reducing out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for Indian families. The BJP’s 2024 manifesto, titled “Modi ki Guarantee”, also promises to extend the coverage of Ayushman Bharat further to include senior citizens above 75 years of age and the transgender community.

Health experts have said that the outcome of the 2024 elections will have significant ramifications for this programme. If the incumbent government retains power, one can expect a continuation and possibly an expansion of Ayushman Bharat.

“In the last ten years, the Union Health Ministry has launched several policies. In 2020, the National Digital Health Mission was integrated into Ayushman Bharat as the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission Programme. Investing in insurance coverage, infrastructure – especially PHCs – and leveraging technology is crucial to improving access, efficiency, and transparency in healthcare services,” said Anand K, Managing Director & CEO, Agilus Diagnostics Ltd.

2024 election impact
As the counting of votes continued until the publishing of this story, states where the Ayushman Bharat scheme has been actively implemented show a noticeable trend of increased voter confidence in the Modi government. These states exhibit a higher approval rating for the central government, as reflected in the polls. For instance, states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana have displayed support for the NDA. Conversely, in states that have not embraced the scheme, such as West Bengal, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, a different trend is evident.

According to the Union Health Ministry, Ayushman Bharat is implemented in 33 states and Union Territories (UTs). The scheme operates in conjunction with over 20 state-specific schemes, and eligible beneficiaries receive a co-branded Ayushman Card supported by both the Centre and the states. As of March 9 2023, a total of 23.19 crore Ayushman cards have been issued to verified beneficiaries. Over 4.44 crore hospital admissions worth Rs 53,350.20 crore have been authorised through a network of 25,969 empanelled healthcare providers, including 11,700 private hospitals.

The scheme apart from health insurance coverage also has another component of strengthening existing primary health centres (PHCs). Under Ayushman Bharat – Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs), comprehensive healthcare services are provided free of cost to all citizens. These services cover maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases, essential drugs, and diagnostic services. AB-PMJAY also offers a unique portability feature, allowing beneficiaries to avail healthcare services at any empanelled hospital across the country.

In states or UTs where AB-PMJAY is not implemented, the National Health Authority has directly empanelled hospitals to ensure beneficiaries can still access healthcare facilities. Additionally, beneficiaries of state schemes merged with AB-PMJAY can use healthcare services in any empanelled hospital nationwide under the portability feature of the scheme.

Modi’s health makeover
The Prime Minister in his address also highlighted the improvements in medical education and infrastructure under his administration. “We have doubled the number of medical colleges in the country and tripled the number of All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS),” Modi noted, illustrating the progress made in expanding healthcare access and quality. The Modi government has built approximately 300 new medical colleges in the last nine years, compared to around 150 medical colleges built in the ten years before 2014.

Additionally, the government has sanctioned ten new AIIMS in different states, increasing the total number of AIIMS from seven to 22 under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY). The number of MBBS seats in the country has doubled to more than one lakh in the last nine years, and the number of PG seats in medicine has increased by 110% during the same period.

Health economists have called for more investment in terms of infrastructure while expanding the medical education. “Expansion in medical education and hospital facilities is essential. Significant improvements are needed in instrumental infrastructure. Specific health issues lack adequate care facilities, making it crucial to address mismatches across illness types and expand supplies where necessary. For certain illnesses, public hospitals are overcrowded while private hospitals are prohibitively expensive, increasing the vulnerability of low-income households,” said Arup Mitra, Professor of Economics, South Asian University (SAU), New Delhi. Business Today

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