Presenting the union budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley Thursday proposed a healthcare programme that would benefit India’s 10 crore “poor and vulnerable” families, or around 50 crore people. Under the National Health Protection Scheme, a health cover of Rs 5 lakh per family will be offered for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation, making it the world’s largest healthcare programme.
Jaitley also proposed a revised National Health Policy—allocating Rs 1,200 crore to set up 1.5 lakh wellness centres across India. The two programmes together constitute what he called the Ayushman Bharat scheme—roughly translated as Longevity India.
Suneeta Reddy, managing director, Apollo Hospitals, India’s largest private hospital chain, welcomed the announcement, and said it is “a huge step in [towards] making healthcare affordable and accessible” to all. “It is indeed heartening that 40% of India’s population will be covered under an insurance scheme.” Reddy said health insurance demanded urgent attention in India and if “properly implemented and monitored”, would be an important step in “creating a Swasth Bharat”.
However, investors did not appear to have taken the announcement in their stride, or at least were wary of the scale of the project, with the benchmark BSE healthcare index closing the days 200.65 points, or 1.58%, lower.
Jaitley did not give details of the programme, or how the Narendra Modi government plans to bear the cost, a fact highlighted by Maulik Doshi, partner, transfer pricing and transaction advisory services, SKP Business Consulting, an Indian consultancy firm. “It would be interesting to see how the FM will mobilize resources to fund this programme,” he said.
Vishal Beri, CEO, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, a specialty hospital chain, said execution would be critical in such a grand programme. “Health Protection Scheme seems like a bold move and a big step towards universal health coverage. However, as with previous schemes, the key remains successful execution and minimisation of leakages,” he said.
Rajeev Boudhakar, CEO, Bhatia Hospital, also highlighted the need for timely payments to service providers. “A word of caution: If the government does not pay the service providers in time, this would send a wrong signal to the industry at large.”
“The million dollar question is: will these benefits be cascaded to the common man?” pondered Ravi Virmani, CEO and founder of Credihealth, an online healthcare marketplace.
Amol Naikawadi, joint managing director of Indus Health Plus, a preventive healthcare firm, said the government should have paid attention to health checkups and diagnosis too. “Setting up 1.5 lakh new health and wellness centres is a good decision. However, strengthening the preventive healthcare sector would have lowered NCDs [non-communicable diseases] burden and treatment cost. This would also help in reducing health expenses of the country as a whole.”
Besides the health cover, Jaitley also earmarked Rs 600 crore as nutritional support for tuberculosis patients.