Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Union Budget 2018-19 re-announced the National Health Protection Scheme which he had first announced in his 2016 Budget speech and was subsequently reiterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech that year. The proposal is lying with the Union cabinet since November 2016.
Jaitley in what he described as the first move towards the Universal Health Coverage announced a health scheme for 10 crore families – 50 crore people with eligibility decided by the socio economic caste census. That is also the cabinet proposal that his government has not had time to consider for more than a year now.
In 2016, here’s what Jaitley said. “Catastrophic health events are the single most important cause of unforeseen out-of-pocket expenditure which pushes lakhs of households below the poverty line every year. Serious illness of family members cause severe stress on the financial circumstances of poor and economically weak families, shaking the foundation of their economic security. In order to help such families, the Government will launch a new health protection scheme which will provide health cover up to Rs.One lakh per family. For senior citizens of age 60 years and above belonging to this category, an additional top-up package up to “30,000 will be provided.”
Six months after Jaitley’s Budget speech, the commitment to universal health coverage was reiterated by prime minister Narendra Modi. Delivering his Independence Day address on August 15. 2016, Modi said: “The health care services are getting costlier and hence today from the rampart of Red Fort, our government is announcing an important step for the health care of such families which are below the poverty line. We have brought a scheme that in future, for such poor families the government of India will incur an expenditure of upto 1 Lakh rupee so that my poor brothers are not deprived of health services and their dreams are not shattered.”
Spadework began much earlier when in 2015 the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, an insurance based health scheme for migrant labourers, was transferred to the Union health ministry with 3.72 crore beneficiaries. It stagnated while the health protection scheme proposal remained in suspended animation and health officials who say find constraints have been the primary roadblock for the new scheme started late last year to re-focus of RSBY.
Perhaps the outcome of the second announcement will be better than the first.