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Ayushman Bharat – Accelerating India on the path to Universal Healthcare

By Dr. Harsh Vardhan
Published on 23 Sep 2019 in Press Information Bureau, Government of India

Our people are our greatest strength. India cannot realise its demographic dividend without its citizens being healthy. This government resolutely believes in realising the full potential of our people and has therefore made health a national priority.

Despite its economic strength and growing global stature, India continues to face the multiple challenges in health. An estimated 6 crore Indians get pushed below poverty line each year because of catastrophic expenditure on healthcare. The triple burden of disease is an enormous challenge – the high maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate and prevalence of communicable diseases; second the high and rising incidence of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension; third, the burden of infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria, Tuberculosis, Nipah ,Hepatitis, AES etc.

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The Prime Minister’s vision is that the best of healthcare should be accessible to the poorest of the poor as a matter of right. The healthcare landscape in India is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Exactly one year ago, Government of India launched Ayushman Bharat and rolled out this game-changer initiative for 55 crore poor and vulnerable citizens. Ayushman Bharat health protection mission, is a path-breaking approach for attaining the ultimate goal of universal healthcare.

Through its two components: Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs), to ensure comprehensive primary health care through operationalising 1.5 lakh HWCs and PM-JAY, the health assurance scheme to deliver secondary and tertiary care for serious illnesses through a health cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family per year, Ayushman Bharat is a clarion call towards fulfilling Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s vision of reaching the last man in the queue.

Ayushman Bharat  is a transformative initiative that seeks to meet the National Health Policy 2017 goal of “attainment of the highest possible level of health and well-being for all and at all ages, through a preventive and promotive health care orientation in all developmental policies, and universal access to good quality health care services without anyone having to face financial hardship as a consequence.” Ayushman Bharat, especially PM-JAY, aims to ensure improved access to, affordability of, and lower the cost of healthcare delivery through a combination of government hospitals and empanelled private providers. It recognizes the critical importance of universal health coverage which is central to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) of ensuring good health and well-being for all.

PM-JAY has had a tremendous start. The scheme is now being implemented across 32 States and Union Territories, which is a demonstration of our commitment to the highest ideals of cooperative federalism, a proof of the historic mandate given to this Government and the faith reposed in us by the people of our great nation on 23rd May this year when Shri Narendra Modi ji embarked upon his second innings as Prime Minister. In the last one year since its launch, about 50 lakh free treatments worth over Rs 7,500 crores have been given at empanelled facilities across the country and, 55% of the total utilised amount has been for tertiary procedures related to orthopaedics, cardiology, and radiation oncology. It is indeed heartening that of the 18,000 plus empanelled hospitals, 53% are private hospitals and they are willingly putting their best foot forward to be a part of Ayushman Bharat.

As PM-JAY gradually increases the empanelment of tertiary facilities, the utilization of tertiary procedures — in terms of volumes as well as amount — will further increase. One outstanding feature of this scheme is portability, which means that an eligible patient from any state implementing PM-JAY can avail free treatment anywhere in India, in any empanelled hospital. Around 40,000 beneficiaries have received such treatment outside their States/UTs.

 As it moves steadily on way to becoming the world’s largest health insurance/assurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat has caught the attention of the globe, and has received wide support and acclaim from the international community.

In the past year, since its launch, PM-JAY has come to stand for access to quality, affordable in-patient healthcare for the poorest of the poor people in a hospital of their choice without suffering the fear and anxiety of catastrophic hospital bills. The endeavour of the scheme is to constantly improve so that it can better meet the needs and expectations of the 55 crore Indians. Recently the Governing Board of the National Health Authority decided to overhaul the existing health benefits packages and rationalize the cost of the packages to remove any aberrations. This will ensure wider private sector participation by empanelling more hospitals to improve access to hospitalization related care. We also approved an upgrade to our IT system to make it even more user-friendly, interoperable, secure and state-of-the-art. Initiatives for improving the quality of services were also endorsed.

 To ensure more effective implementation and uptake of PM-JAY and strengthen patient safety through quality care, we have instituted a robust fraud control structure, flowing from the Centre to the states and districts, and analytics and audit-based mechanisms to prevent, detect, and deter medical malpractices and wrong doing by any of the stakeholders. Due to our policy of zero tolerance towards corruption, 97 errant hospitals have been de-empanelled and penalties worth more than Rs.1.5 crore have been levied.

To improve health sector in our country, we need to transform the medical profession and expand it to get more people to take up careers as doctors, paramedics and frontline health workers. The National Medical Commission Bill, is a milestone in the medical education sector which will reduce the burden on students, ensure probity, accountability, transparency and quality in medical education. 75 new medical colleges are being set up in the govt. sector and 82 more are in various phases of development that will help increase the number of medical seats and strengthen the medical education infrastructure in the country. It will also bring down the cost of medical education, ensure quality education and provide wider access to people for quality healthcare. 

Our Government understands that Health in India is a complex space with several challenges and opportunities. There is no single magical pill that can ameliorate our health burden. This is why we are putting in place an entire ecosystem of programmes and legislations (some of them described above) targeting all key areas requiring reform such as progressively achieving universal health coverage, nutrition, aligning the growth of private health care sector with public health goals, health systems performance and strengthening, among others.

 I congratulate our beloved Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his undaunted efforts in each sector to live up to the promise of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. Emulating his extraordinary vision, I too am working to fast-track all initiatives in the health sector. Being a doctor by profession, my task becomes easier as I have first-hand knowledge of healthcare. On the first anniversary of AB-PMJAY, as I urge my fellow professionals and Indians to join and support this healthcare movement, I re-dedicate myself to the service of the nation. To be able to achieve a disease-free India, and to be able to attain global standards of healthcare for every Indian, is now the goal of my life.

*The author is the Union Cabinet Minister for Health and Family Welfare, and Science & Technology & Earth Sciences. Views are personal.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare addresses a press conference on completion of one year of Ayushman Bharat scheme on September 16, 2019 at National Media Centre (NMC), Raisina Road, New Delhi.

Note:- Image Courtesy: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

(This Article was originally published in Press Information Bureau, Government of India on 23 Sep 2019 and can be accessed here )

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