The litmus test for the government’s ambitious healthcare scheme, Ayushman Bharat—Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) has begun with around 1000 patients seeking treatment in just one day after its formal launch. The government has sent a two-page customized letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 4 million beneficiaries explaining the importance and benefits of the scheme, according to the ministry of health and family welfare. As many as 20 patients were admitted and operated on at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi, Jharkhand, on the inaugural day of the scheme. The first birth after the scheme’s official launch was that of a girl, who was born to a beneficiary on Monday in the hospital. “When we started the pilot of AB-PMJAY in Haryana, the first baby was also a girl named Karishma. We named her Ayushman Devi, inspired by the scheme’s name. This is really heartening that the first baby, after the formal launch of the scheme, is also a girl. Our government is promoting the girl child in a big way and this event is in tune with that,” said Union health minister JP Nadda. Dubbed Modicare, AB-PMJAY could be a potential game-changer in the upcoming electoral battles, as well as for the healthcare landscape of India.
The scheme aims at providing an annual health cover of ₹5 lakh per family to about 500 million economically deprived people based on the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) data. It is being touted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the world’s largest healthcare program. After the paperless and cashless entitlement-based scheme’s launch, the onus is now on the Indian healthcare system, both public and private, to deliver. This is at a time the government is struggling with inadequate health infrastructure in the country, especially in rural areas, where most of the scheme’s beneficiaries are concentrated. “The scheme has been designed keeping in mind the 71st National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) survey. However, it cannot be ignored that with rapid urbanization, more than 400 million people now reside in urban spaces, of whom nearly 100 million live in slum-like conditions, with a direct impact on their health and economic conditions due to high out-of-pocket expenditures,” said L.M. Singh, head of PAHAL, the flagship health financing initiative of IPE Global-USAID, an international development consultancy group.
“This vulnerable urban poor population needs equity in healthcare, given that it is largely depending on the private sector,” he said. “The private sector provides more than 75 percent healthcare in urban locations. While the scheme seeks to address the demand-side financing constraint on the poor and the vulnerable, equally pressing constraint is on the supply of healthcare services that needs to be addressed on priority, particularly given that nearly 80 percent of the population entitled to receive benefits lives in rural India,” Singh said. As many as 31 states and Union Territories (UTs) have signed the MoUs with the Center to implement the program. The remaining states and UTs, including Telangana, Odisha, Delhi, Kerala, and Punjab, have opted out of the scheme. – Livemint