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Why Ayushman Bharat may stay irrespective of election outcome

Joe C Mathew     April 22, 2019

The election manifesto of the major opposition party Indian National Congress may not have mentioned 'Ayushman Bharat' even once, but the pet project of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is certain to stay in some form or other even if the party-led coalition replaces the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and comes to power at the Centre. Under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, BJP has promised to provide Rs 5 lakh health insurance cover to 50 crore Indians.

The Congress' promise of a 'Right to Healthcare Act' is a legal instrument that will provide every citizen the right to healthcare services, including free diagnostics, outpatient care, medicines and hospitalisation through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals. Congress manifesto also talks of a programme that will enable state governments to revamp and equip the network of primary health centres (PHCs) for all primary health services, including preventive measures and wellness services and become referral centres for serious medical cases. While it explicitly mentions its preference for public hospitals model over insurance led private hospitals, there is no plan to move away from the Ayushman Bharat model that has both public and private healthcare providers within its ambit. The proposal essentially will be an expansion of Ayushman Bharat's reach as it covers hospitalisation and diagnostic expenses of almost every major illness. The second leg of the Ayushman Bharat scheme talks about strengthening the PHCs to meet the same objective of that of the Congress promise. 

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Predictably, the BJP manifesto talks of enlarging the scope of its Ayushman Bharat scheme, which, in addition to insurance cover, plans to set up 150,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) by 2022. BJP wants these HWCs to have telemedicine and diagnostic laboratory facilities to ensure quality primary medical care to all.

Meanwhile, the health ministry said Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) has benefitted more than 20.8 lakh poor in the first 200 days of its implementation. These patients received free treatment worth more than Rs 5,000 crore, they said. While more than 3.07 crore beneficiaries were issued PM-JAY eCards, more than 15,400 hospitals --nearly 50 per cent private -- were enrolled under the scheme. Through national portability, more than 13,000 beneficiaries have received treatment worth Rs 33 crore outside their states.

Launched in September 2018, PM-JAY provides a financial health cover of Rs 5 lakh to more than 10.74 crore Indian families per year for secondary and tertiary medical care. National Health Authority (NHA) is the nodal entity for the design and implementation of AB-PMJAY.

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