On the day Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee released the party’s manifesto with a focus on national issues such as demonetisation, Kashmir and GST, the state government returned the money received from the Centre for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), touted as the biggest government-funded health insurance programme in the world.
On Wednesday, the West Bengal government’s Directorate of Health Services released Rs 162.06 crore, about a month after the National Health Authority (NHA) wrote to the state government that if it intends to stay out of the programme, it should forthwith return the money given as central share for implementation of the programme. West Bengal has also stopped sharing data regarding programmes and schemes in the state with the central government.
The state exited the scheme in January this year, apparently upset over intimation letters to beneficiaries carrying a photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi even though the scheme was supposed to be implemented in “alliance” with the state government’s health insurance scheme Swasthya Saathi.
Launched on September 23, PMJAY is the tertiary care arm of the NDA government’s flagship health programme Ayushman Bharat. Under PMJAY, 10.74 crore families across the country — chosen as per deprivations listed in the socio-economic caste census data — will be entitled to an annual health cover of Rs 5 lakh per family. Of the 50 crore intended beneficiaries of the programme, 2.79 crore are currently enrolled with the NHA which is the implementing authority for the health programme. On January 10, the West Bengal government informed the Centre that it would no longer want to remain a part of PMJAY. Till then, the state had been one of the better performers in PMJAY.
Spelling out the reasons for West Bengal’s exit, Additional Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha wrote to the Centre: “…the MoU of JAY signed between government of West Bengal and government of India clearly stipulated that since West Bengal already had a well-established scheme Swasthyasathi, the state government would like to retain the name Swasthyasathi in the scheme…To our surprise the entitlement letter/card issued by your ministry mentions the name of the scheme as PMJAY which is not only a violation of the stipulations of the said MoU but has created confusion at the grassroots level.”
Interestingly, the Trinamool manifesto talks about a health insurance programme too, without giving the value of the insurance. “It is our desire to cover every Indian with a health insurance having a family income up to Rs 5,00,000 per annum. It is our resolve that every senior citizen having family income up to Rs 6,00,000 per annum will be provided with free medical care,” reads the document.
With the money returned, NHA’s last hopes of coaxing West Bengal back into the scheme have been dashed. The exit of the eastern state affected the national portability feature of the scheme as a large number of people from the Northeast and neighbouring states travel to Kolkata for treatment. The authority has been mulling the Delhi model to solve the problem. Delhi is out of the scheme, but NHA is directly empanelling Delhi hospitals that want to be a part of the scheme to safeguard portability. West Bengal hospitals are being empanelled through Meghalaya State Health Agency.