There is need for greater private sector activity in health insurance: Eknath Shinde at FPJ health conference

Eknath Shinde, Health Minister, Maharashtra, delivers the keynote address at the health conference organised by the Free Press Journal. He appeals to the private sector to take a step forward and promises assistance from the government.

Edited excerpts:

Greetings to the panelists, the organisers and audience of this health insurance conference. It is indeed an important topic. I am happy to be here not just as Health Minister of the state, but in a personal capacity. Our party leader, the late Balasaheb Thackeray, was also a renowned cartoonist. He had commenced his career as a cartoonist from The Free Press Journal, and this association with your organisation is a treasured memory for all.

The theme of the conference is complex, vital and yet neglected. Health insurance penetration in India is very low. A national sample survey conducted in 2016 says that more than 80 per cent of Indians are not covered under any health insurance plan, which means that these people then need to pay for their healthcare expenses out of their own pocket.

The direct impact of this is that any family suffering such emergencies cannot then rise above the poverty line, and some are indeed pushed into poverty because of such events.

Abhishek Karnani, Director, Free Press Journal greets Eknath Shinde, Health Minister, Maharashtra
Abhishek Karnani, Director, Free Press Journal greets Eknath Shinde, Health Minister, Maharashtra

The data is somewhat old, things have improved since then. Schemes have been implemented at both state and centre level. Ayushman Bharat, launched by the central government in 2018, is the biggest healthcare initiative in the world. In 2012, the Rajiv Gandhi Jeevandayee Arogya Yojana (RGJAY) was introduced in Maharashtra.

In April 2017, the Maharashtra government renamed the scheme as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana, which now covers around 1.5 crore citizens of Maharashtra. In conjunction with Ayushman Bharat, the total amount for the state comes to 2.25 crore citizens, which means that 20-25 per cent of the total population of the state has been covered under Government schemes for treatment of 1,300 different health crisis.

Till 2019, 22 lakh patients have been treated at a cost of Rs 4,500 crore. Despite all this, there are limitations as in every government scheme and hence there is need for greater private sector activity in health insurance, possibly under the public private partnership model.

Last year we started an MRI/CT scan facility at a hospital in the MMR region under this model, and are extending it to other hospitals. The same model can work across the state for different services. For lifestyle diseases, 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres are being set up. We are planning a concept – Balasaheb Thackeray Apla Dawakhana – which will serve medical needs of the lowest segments of the society.

All this shows that we are putting in our best efforts. The private sector must also pitch in. Today, Cancer is an ailment rapidly proliferating across society in recent times. The government schemes do cover this disease but there are limitations. This is where health insurance can make a difference.

Both government and private companies need to think alike – how to help the common people. That is where I appreciate your media group’s initiative. You go beyond reporting to proactively highlighting such crucial issues. Please consider me on your side, in all respects.

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