In February 2018, the Indian government first announced the Ayushman Bharat Yojana in its Union budget. The Scheme was envisioned as a universal health care plan for India and aimed at providing free access to healthcare for over 500 million Indians along with a variety of healthcare services. It was not until Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 2018 Independence Day speech, that the Ayushaman Bharat scheme was announced to the public. The scheme finally began on 25th September 2018 commemorating the birth anniversary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.
In 2017, the Indian government reported that each year, more than 60 million Indians were at the risk of being forced into poverty because of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even though various health care programs were available regionally and nationally, there was a felt need for a consolidated program that could provide economically vulnerable Indians with medical expense coverage.
Ayushman Bharat Scheme or Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) was envisioned as a result. Moreover, given the growing coverage of ‘Aadhar’ or Unique Identification Card, the government also recommended availing benefits through their cards, allowing for better coordination, implementation and monitoring. The program became part of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which established a dedicated body for its administration- National Health Authority (NHA).
The program is a centrally sponsored scheme meaning it is jointly funded by both the central government and the states. With its sim of covering over 500 million people, the program has been considered to be the world’s largest government-sponsored healthcare program.
The program provides health coverage to over 100 million households in India with an amount of INR 500,000 per family. This covers medical treatment in empanelled private and public hospitals and even offers cashless payments. Those eligible for benefits are determined as per the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011, and there is no restriction on family size, gender, age.
The uniquely ambitious feature of this program is that it covers all existing medical conditions, hospitalisation, diagnostic and medical expenses. It can be accessed through primary care services, and for those needing secondary and tertiary care, the program provides free services. Those wishing to avail of the benefits can do so even from outside their states in empanelled hospitals. Recently, the program also covered Covid-19 testing.
Since PM-JAY is a centrally sponsored scheme, states have the choice to participate in the program or not. When the program was initially announced, 20 states and union territories expressed their interest to join but later backed out. Many states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu decided to opt-out stating that each state had their own similar healthcare program.
They decided to participate later with adjustments (Hybrid mode) alongside their existing state healthcare programs. States like Kerela, despite having their own healthcare program, decided to join PM-JAY. As of March 2020, almost all states and union territories except four states had participated in the program in some way or the other.
Recently, the Telangana state government has announced its intention to participate in PM-JAY and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the NHA. The program will be carried out in a converged mode with its state counterpart – Arogyasri and comes as a major sigh of relief for people seeking treatment in the state during the deadly second- wave of Covid- 19.
The PM-JAY program is no doubt one of the most ambitious healthcare programs envisioned anywhere in the world. Given the scale of its coverage and its features, the program provides much-needed support to the healthcare infrastructure of India. But challenges do exist in the form of centre-state coordination and well as expenses. There are also both opportunities and concerns in terms of creating effective convergence with existing regional programs. For more updates about the scheme and other schemes launched by the Indian government, keep reading AlShorts, short news in 30 seconds.