India to offer free health services to half a billion people

By on 05/03/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
The government aims to open up free hospital care to 100m Indian families (Image courtesy: Harsha K R/Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Indian government has announced an ambitious healthcare scheme covering as many as 500m beneficiaries, in a programme dubbed ‘Modicare’ – a play on prime minister Narendra Modi’s name, the USA’s Medicare system, and Barack Obama’s ‘Obamacare’ reforms.

The National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), touted by the government as the world’s largest healthcare programme, will offer about 100m poor families insurance cover providing access to healthcare services valued at up to 500,000 Rupees (US$7680) each per year. With the scheme up and running, 40% of the Indian population will have access to medical facilities and critical care across secondary and tertiary health services. Eventually, the government aims to bring as many as 250m families under the insurance umbrella.

Healthy budget

The programme has initially been allocated about 20bn Rupees (US$307m) from the 2018-2019 annual budget, with services beginning in October. But to fulfil its ambitions, much more funding will be required: the policy is expected to cost the exchequer nearly five times that amount annually. Beneficiaries will not be asked to make any payment, as the scheme is intended to be fully funded by the government.

Announcing the flagship programme, finance minister Arun Jaitley said: “This will be the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme. My government has now decided to take health protection to a more aspirational level. Adequate funds will be provided for smooth implementation of this programme. The government is steadily but surely progressing towards the goal of universal health coverage.”

Split responsibilities

Beneficiaries will be identified using the 2011 census data, with the federal government monitoring delivery by India’s state administrations. The central government is expecting to foot 60% of the bill, with states tasked with finding the other 40%.

India’s public spending on health is slightly over 1% of GDP, making it one of the lowest in the world; but the plan is for that figure to rise to 2.5% of GDP by 2025. The insurance industry is jubilant over the announcement, with analysts predicting that the sector could grow by 40% a year on the back of the programme. But delivery will rest on the country’s private healthcare system, often criticised as fragmented and inefficient.

About Vasudevan Sridharan

This article was written by Vasudevan Sridharan. Global Government Forum works with a network of contributors who are experts in their field. If you would like to contribute a piece to Global Government Forum, please contact [email protected]

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