India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a healthcare program that seeks to grant access to around 500 million of the country’s most vulnerable population. The National Health Protection Mission will provide individual insurance coverage for up to US$7,100 every year, to guarantee people can pay for their healthcare needs.
Despite India’s public system, 70 percent of all medical charges are paid for by patients, and around 63 million fall into poverty every year due to high medical bills.
“It is essential to ensure that we free the poor of India from the clutches of poverty due to which they cannot afford healthcare,” Modi said during his last Independence Day speech.
The program will not invest in the expansion of India’s public healthcare network, which is facing a severe crisis as hospitals and health centers struggle to secure medicine, beds, and staff, instead it will provide people with money to pay private clinics and health centers.
Indu Bhushan, who is leading the initiative, has recognized the mission will place a burden on private hospitals and clinics that will have to increase capacity for 5 million more operations and find 35 million more hospital beds. Bhushan is confident “the market” will fix that.
However, there is some concern over how this program will be able to address the urban-rural gap that forces Indians in rural areas to travel long distances to access healthcare. It is also uncertain how this government-sponsored insurance scheme will reverse the overall deficit in medical infrastructure and staff, including licenses doctors.
Reuters has reported the mission, also known as Modicare, will cost around US$1.7 billion every year, an investment the International Monetary Fund believes India can afford.
Modi is running for re-election in 2019, and his popularity rate has dropped among India’s disenfranchised and rural population.
Critics believe the announced program aims to restore his popularity ahead of the elections.