The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana could be a game-changer both for its launchers and those set to benefit from it. Should the roll-out be smooth and universal, covering over ten crore families, the ruling BJP could draw electoral dividends from it in the 2019 general election. The poor stand to benefit from the free healthcare insurance will be able to access expert medical aid virtually at their doorstep. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the ambitious scheme under the Ayushman Bharat umbrella in Ranchi on Sunday, spoke of its universal reach regardless of any external and extraneous identifiers such as religion, caste, etc. The PMJAY aims to cover 10.44 crore families in 444 districts of 26 States. Under it, notified medical practitioners, hospitals, etc will be reimbursed charges for bed, drugs and diagnostics two days before, during, and 15 days after hospitalisation.
It is the largest health insurance scheme in the world entailing no contribution from the beneficiaries. The central government will pay the entire premium to the insurers, though without the cooperation and participation of the state government, it is unlikely that the scheme can make much headway. Six States have declined to participate in the scheme, arguing that their own State-run schemes are better. Unsurprisingly, all six are non-BJP States. Healthcare is a huge problem in a poor country like India with shoddy public health facilities in over-crowded civil hospitals, including the well-known chains, in the private sector. Registered medical practitioners in rural countryside are often no better than quacks and hakims to whom people turn to in times of illness due to superstition, misguided faith and, above all, for want of qualified MBBS doctors.
How the Modicare, as the PMJAY is sometimes called, remove these vital lags is a huge challenge? On top of it, the endemic corruption and neglect by medical practitioners and hospitals inflicts further pain on the poor and ill-informed patients. Resisting the temptation to draw the maximum money from the insurance companies without providing equivalent medical assistance will be hard for the health service providers. On the other hand, the insurance companies, as is their wont, will seek to minimise the payout to the insured. In other words, it is not easy to fight a corrupt system. Besides, finding qualified doctors to locate in the rural hinterlands will pose a problem. Nonetheless, Modi is to be congratulated for having undertaken a missionary task to provide basic healthcare to the mass of India’s poor and underprivileged population. Now, the challenge is to make a success of it.