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Important Beginning

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The Uttarakhand Government has launched its own version of the Ayushman Bharat medical insurance scheme, named after former Prime Minister, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee. It provides Rs 5 lakh medical cover for every beneficiary per year. The State Government plans, in a phased manner, to cover every resident of the state. The first lot of beneficiaries has been identified on the basis of socio-economic parameters available with the government.
India, as a nation, has traditionally invested the least amount of money on health services, per capita. Even as the nation’s population has more than doubled in the past forty years, medical services provided by Government have failed to keep pace, even deteriorated. It is the private sector that has tried to fill the gap, but its growth, too, has been hampered by the people’s paying capacity. One of the major causes of people dropping below the poverty line is known to be illness and the consequent medical bills. Private sector medical insurance has also come up to provide back-up for emergencies, but it has its limitations, particularly with regard to pre-existing diseases. A nexus has also built up in the private sector that is exploiting insurance policy holders for short-sighted profits.
As such, the Ayushman Bharat scheme is an ambitious attempt to help the poor and middle classes tap into the existing medical infrastructure, private and government, in times of need. It is based on the present government’s philosophy of providing benefits directly to the needy, instead of a leaky roundabout way. However, there are already impediments to the process being experienced, particularly from private hospitals, which are not in agreement with the ‘packages’ worked out regarding treatment of particular illnesses. This is because it would expose the already existing exploitation of the system. All the same, some hospitals have been empanelled and, hopefully, more will join up on realising the enormous potential of the scheme.
Providing universal healthcare is by no means an easy task, so all those already poking holes in the Ayushman Scheme need to be more patient. Be it Obamacare in the US, or the NHS in the UK, even developed countries find it hard to reconcile the demand and supply paradoxes. Only some north European countries, Canada, New Zealand, etc., have what can be described as properly functioning systems. If India can carefully calibrate implementation of the scheme, while at the same time ensuring checks on corruption, there might be hope of basic medical cover for the common folk in the time to come.