The Ayushman Bharat scheme is meant to provide Rs 5 lakh cover to 10 crore economically backward families
Two days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the centre’s flagship scheme Ayushman Bharat or Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan (PMJAY) from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi. The scheme, which has been described as the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme, is meant to provide Rs 5 lakh insurance cover to 10 crore economically backward families.
The government will take care of the insurance premium for all 10 crore families. But despite the big claims, there are still no clear answers on how much it will cost.
In the Union Budget, Rs 2,000 crore was announced for the first year, but speaking to NDTV in August, Dr Indu Bhushan, the CEO of Ayushman Bharat, said Rs 6,000 to 8,000 crore will be required. This weekend, Dr VK Paul of NITI Aayog told NDTV that the amount could be around Rs 3,500 crore. “The government initially allocated Rs 2,000 crore and added Rs 1,500 crore more and the centre has made it clear that they are flexible with budget allocation”, said Dr Paul.
But Dr Indu Bhushan, CEO of Ayushman Bharat told NDTV on Sunday, “Right now the issue is we ourselves are not very clear how much money is needed because we are doing this for the first time so in terms of discovering prices, premium in different states, many states are going into trust model, so it not clear.”
But what do these amounts mean in terms of premium per family? At Rs 2,000 crore allotted in the Budget, the premium per family will come to Rs 200 per year. If the amount goes up to Rs 8,000 crore as suggested by CEO of Ayushman Bharat, that increases the premium to Rs 800 per year. But experts say even assuming the maximum figure is Rs 800, it may not be enough.
For instance, Rajasthan’s successful health insurance scheme, which has a lower insurance cover of Rs 3 lakhs, has a premium of about Rs 1,200 per family per year.
There is also confusion over the funds for another part of ‘Modicare’ which is its promise to revamp India’s ailing primary health centres. Rs 1,200 crore has been allotted for 1.5 lakh primary health centres bringing the cost per centre to Rs 80,000 only.
Even hiring four nursing staff members at one centre for a monthly salary of Rs 20,000 per person would exhaust this budget, raising questions as to how ‘Modicare’ will transform India’s primary healthcare.
Dr VK Paul of NITI Aayog tried to deny this on Tuesday while speaking on NDTV’s show ‘Reality Check’ by claiming that the budget for wellness centres in the first phase alone for 15,000 centres was Rs 17 lakh per centre, amounting to a total budget of Rs 2,550 crore. But the facts are different. According to the Press Information Bureau’s release from the Finance Ministry on February 1, Rs 1,200 crore is the actual allotted money for the total 1.5 lakh wellness centres across the country.
With inputs from Snigdha Basu