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The Risk of Ayushman Bharat Eating into Other Healthcare Schemes Looms Large

The government in its Interim Budget on February 1, raised the allocation for Ayushman Bharat scheme by a whopping 167 percent to Rs 6400 crore for 2019-2020. The allocation for the healthcare scheme stood at Rs 2400 crore in 2018-2019. According to Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, so far, one million people have been benefited from the scheme and have saved around Rs 3000 crore in hospitalization charges. The 167 percent increase, may make a good headline, but the allocation is still short of around Rs 1000 crore as sought by the National Health Authority, according to reports. The National Health Authority is the implementing agency of the scheme. It was earlier estimated that the scheme would need at least Rs 12,000 crore per annum. The grand health insurance announced in the Union Budget 2018-19, and launched in September 2018 aims to provide health coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per year to 10.74 crore poor families, or to 40 percent of India’s population. While the Center contributes 60 percent of the funds for the scheme (special category states will get 90 percent of the funding), states have to bear rest of the cost, including execution. To set up 1.5 lakh health and wellness centers, which was also part of Ayushman Bharat, the government raised allocation by 35 percent to Rs 1349 crore.

But what is worrying is that the allocations for health expenditure remained flat beyond Ayushman Bharat. The total budget allocation for the Department of Health and Family Welfare for 2019-2020 stood at Rs 61,398.12 crore. That is an increase of 13 percent compared to the current financial year. That remains just a little over 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as opposed to the National Health Policy direction of 2.5 percent of the GDP. Excluding the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the increase in health allocation is 6 percent. The allocations for the crucial National Health Mission that covers gamut of health services such immunization, neonatal care, ASHA workers, Vector Borne Diseases, TB, Leprosy and communicable diseases, grew 3.46 percent. The allocation of immunization or vaccination program was cut 7 percent to Rs 6758.46 crore. This was exactly what some of the healthcare experts are concerned about. The concern is that the public health insurance schemes could eat into the spending of other important health interventions. Through Ayushman Bharat, the government pushed the demand for healthcare services, but the supply side has not kept pace. The government was silent on providing incentives for setting up hospitals across the country. – Money Control