Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s biggest
healthcare program on Sunday, aiming to provide free health services to
half a billion poor people, which could boost his chances in national
elections early next year.
The scheme, which the government dubs
“Modicare”, will provide 100 million families, or about 500 million poor
people, with health cover of 500,000 rupees per year for free treatment
of serious ailments.
The measures are Modi’s latest attempt to
reform a public health system that faces a shortage of hospitals and
doctors. The government has also in recent years capped prices of
critical drugs and medical devices and increased health funding.
But critics say the scheme has been launched in a hurry for political gain and lacks adequate funds to support it.
spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on public health, among the
world’s lowest, and the health ministry estimates such funding leads to
“catastrophic” expenses that push 7 percent of the population into
poverty each year.
“This is the world’s biggest healthcare
scheme, benefiting more than the combined population of the United
States, Canada and Mexico,” Modi said after launching the nation-wide
plan from Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
separate registration would be required for the scheme and the people
could check online whether they were eligible, Modi said.
Paul, a senior official at the NITI Aayog told Reuters in an interview
last week the benefits would be available at hundreds of empanelled
private hospitals as well.
“India’s health system is never going
to be the same. It’s a turning point,” he said. Private hospitals and
pharmaceutical companies expect the plan would boost their business.
scheme has been called a “game changer” by the chairman of India’s
Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, Prathap Reddy, while Jefferies analysts
have said companies such as Healthcare Global Enterprises and Narayana
Hrudayalaya are likely to benefit.
The plan will be initially
rolled out in 27 states, where the federal government will bear 60
percent of the costs and 40 percent would be born by state governments.