As Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his government’s ambitious healthcare scheme Ayushman Bharat on Sunday, five states remained unconvinced. Telangana, Odisha, Delhi, Kerala and Punjab have said they will not implement the programme till their concerns are addressed since they have better health assurance schemes.
PM Modi has taken exception to this. Addressing a gathering in Odisha on Saturday, he accused Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of ignoring a programme that is bound to help his state. “Everyone is aware of the importance of the Ayushman Bharat scheme, but Naveen babu does not understand. The Odisha government should come forward and join the programme,” he said during political campaigns in the state ahead of the assembly and parliamentary polls.
Mr Patnaik made light of the taunt, pointing out that his state’s Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana covers many more people than Ayushman Bharat and provides Rs. 7 lakh to women as opposed to the central programme’s Rs. 5 lakh. He suggested that PM Modi focus his energies on curbing the rising prices of fuel in the country instead of picking on a state that already has a good healthcare programme.
Ayushman Bharat, dubbed as the world’s largest government-funded healthcare scheme, is expected to benefit 50 crore citizens. Thirty-one states and union territories have agreed to implement the programme that will entitle nearly 10 crore economically backward families to health coverage of Rs. 5 lakh each.
“The government is pursuing a holistic approach towards the betterment of the health sector. While it focuses on affordable healthcare on one hand, emphasis is also laid on preventive healthcare,” PM Modi said during the launch event. “The number of Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries is almost equal to the population of Canada, Mexico and the United States put together.”
NITI Aayog member Dr Vinod Paul said the scheme — to be funded on a 60:40 ratio by the centre and state — will come into effect from September 25, the birth anniversary of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay.
Kerala was particularly scathing in its criticism of the centre’s flagship health scheme. In an interview with The Indian Express, State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac recently raised questions on the “feasibility” of the scheme that was obviously a “big hoax”.
Mr Isaac wondered how the government would implement the scheme at such a big scale. “The subsidy ceiling for the current RSBY scheme of Rs. 30,000 benefit is Rs. 1,250. The subsidy for the Ayushman scheme, with benefits of Rs. 5 lakh, is Rs. 1,110. Is it possible to have such a jump in benefits for lower premium?” he asked the newspaper.
Telangana rejected the scheme on the grounds that its Aarogyasri scheme covers 70 per cent of the state’s population while the Ayushman Bharat will only benefit 80 lakh people. According to news daily Deccan Chronicle, the state government also believes that the Prime Minister’s photograph on the Ayushman Bharat card will result in the ruling BJP getting undue publicity in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.
While Delhi does not have an existing insurance scheme, it expressed dissatisfaction with the Ayushman Bharat’s proposed target of 6 lakh families — which is just 3 per cent of its 2-crore population. Punjab also held