In his fifth and final independence Day speech before the general election of 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the tone for the upcoming polls by announcing a launch date for the biggest and most ambitious scheme of his tenure: the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan.
The scheme will provide free health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh per year to over half a billion Indians and will be launched on September 25. Over the next few weeks the government will start testing the technology tools for the scheme.
“The only way to free the poor from the clutches of poverty is to empower them. It is high time we ensure that the poor of India get access to good quality and affordable healthcare,” says Modi.
The intention to provide healthcare insurance to every citizen was first announced by finance minister Arun Jaitley during his budget speech in February this year. The scheme will subsume the UPA government’s Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), launched in 2008, promising an annual insurance of Rs 30,000 per family for those living below the poverty line (BPL).
According to the Ayushman Bharat website, it will be portable across the country and the beneficiaries covered under the scheme will be allowed to take cashless benefits from any public/private empanelled hospital across the country.
A note by Phillip Capital says the scheme will insure 1,354 medical and surgical packages (for conditions including cancer, cardiology, and genetic and mental disorders).
“While Ayushman Bharat (AB) will be covering 4-5 times the population, the payout/government spending was 10 times larger in Obamacare. There is a ceiling to the benefits under AB; no limits on essential benefits for a particular section under Obamacare,” says the note by Phillip Capital.
Wearing a saffron turban and addressing the country from the Red Fort, Modi also sounded the poll bugle. Taking a dig at the last few years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-II’s tenure, Modi said there was a time when India meant “policy paralysis” and “delayed reform”, but today the world sees it as a country of “reform, perform, and transform.”
"There was a time when the world counted India as one of the fragile five…today the world sees it as a destination for multi-billion dollar investments,” he said.
Modi also mocked the slow pace of development in the previous regime.
“If we would have continued at the speed at which toilets were being built at in 2013, it would have taken decades,” he said alluding to the Swachh Bharat Mission, and taking a shot at the UPA government. He said the same about the speed of rural electrification, laying down of the optic fibre network, and LPG gas connections reaching villages.
The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on the 72nd year of independence was not just limited to politics. By dedicating a fair amount of time in the speech on women’s issues and far flung corners of the country like the North East and Jammu & Kashmir, Modi ticked the right boxes.
“There was a time when Delhi was far for the North East, today we have taken Delhi to the doorstep of the North East,” he said.
Similarly, Modi also called for dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir, and promised that panchayat elections in the state will be held soon.
Before he unfurled the national flag, Modi left the country with an ambitious dream, and a teaser to what he aims for if re-elected. Modi proclaimed that India will launch its first manned mission to space by 2022, about 60 years after U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the same intention in 1962. The mission will be called Gaganyaan and if successful, India will be fourth nation to do so after the U.S., Russia and China.
"We have taken a vow, in 2022, in the 75th year of India’s independence, a son or daughter of this country will go to space with the tricolour in hand,” he said.