As one full year has passed since the launch of the Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is the right time to evaluate the impact that this scheme has had on the delivery of healthcare to the tens of crores of poor Indians, and the prospects for the future in light of the experience of the year gone by.
The CEO of the National Health Authority, Dr Indu Bhushan, has informed the country that in the first year itself the Ayushman Bharat Scheme has provided inpatient treatment to some 46.4 lakh poor Indians across the country. This treatment has cost Rs 7500 crore. This is no mean achievement in the very first year of such a mega scheme. This figure itself indicates that the Ayushman Bharat scheme is a game-changer healthcare delivery in India.
Without doubt, the treatment received by these 46.4 lakh poor Indians has established this scheme as a real, credible treatment option in the mind's eye of the poor in India. Even those poor people who have not been in need of treatment in the first year but are entitled to the Ayushman Bharat benefits, can now rest assured that they will not be ruined if someone in their family falls ill. Rather, the Ayushman Bharat scheme will take care of their treatment, free of cost for them.
One challenge that the Ayushman Bharat scheme has faced has been the lack of awareness among the poor Indians about their entitlement to avail the benefits offered by the scheme to them absolutely free of cost. As the word spreads among the poor that this scheme indeed provides free treatment, more and more people will make use of it and the numbers availing of it will go up.
Of course, there has been corruption and insensitivity of healthcare providers in certain cases, which has marred the image of this scheme. However, just because of exceptions, there is no sense in throwing the baby out with the bath water. Those who have been trying to game the system are being caught and de-empanelled from the scheme and appropriate action is being taken against them. Hospital staff that turns away genuine beneficiaries is also being held to account. With time, surely, these minor glitches will be addressed and the scheme will certainly take a big load off the mind of India's poor as to how they will meet the healthcare needs of their families.
However, it is not just those who live in abject poverty who face uncertainty as regards their families' healthcare needs. Even the middle class and upper middle class families in India have been pushed into poverty due to the treatment costs for someone in their family who has fallen seriously ill. This is why it is being demanded that even middle class and upper middle class families should be given the benefit of Ayushman Bharat scheme, albeit with the payment of an annual insurance premium.
The Ayushman Bharat scheme has come as a saviour for not just the poor in India, but also for the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry. With more and more poor people opting for treatment under this scheme rather than opting to go without treatment due to lack of funds, the size of the healthcare market has expanded in India to that extent. It is being visualised that Ayushman Bharat is giving a big boost to the pharma and medical devices industry. More hospitals are being built and many hospitals are being expanded at a scorching pace to cater to the visible jump in demand for healthcare services. It is being estimated that this expansion will see as many as four million new healthcare jobs across India in the coming future.
The real benefit of Ayushman Bharat, however, lies in improving the health of the populace, which should get reflected in higher life expectancy in the country. Better health means more productivity and a stronger economy. If the first year is any indication, Ayushman Bharat is a great success and deserves a thumbs up.