Paving way for a revolution of sorts in the health sector, the Karnataka Government cabinet on Monday approved a “Universal Health Coverage” (UHC) scheme aimed at providing free and cashless treatment to patients in both government and private hospitals to 14 million households.
Called ‘Aarogya Bhagya’ (free healthcare), it’s the latest in a long list of populist schemes offered by the Congress-led state government including free rice to needy households and free milk to school students.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s populist push is aimed at winning over socially and economically backward classes ahead of next year’s state assembly elections.
With an innovative slogan, “Treatment first and payment next,” the state government will launch this new scheme with an intention to provide health care to about 1.4 crore families across the state on November 1, Kannada Rajyotsava day.
Hailed as a landmark decision, all seven state and national health programs would be merged into one scheme which would benefit all people.
The Universal health coverage will be linked to Aadhaar and the state government is planning to merge seven running schemes , the Vajpayee Arogyasri, Yashaswini, Jyothi Sanjivini, Mukhyamantri Santhwana Harish Scheme, Janani-Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, Rajiv Arogya Bhagya, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana ,into one scheme called Arogya Bhagya, covering all the 1.4 crore households in the state for cashless treatment for up to Rs 1.4 lakh in both government and private hospitals.
Just months ahead of assembly elections, the government has decided to issue a card which is linked to a person’s Aadhaar number that will ensure health coverage.
Briefing reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Karnataka Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister TB Jayachandra said, “Universal health coverage or Arogya Bhagya will operate on the principle ‘Treatment First and Payment Next’. Also the scheme will eliminate overlapping of existing health schemes and reduce duplication of fund release.”
“Regardless of income, all citizens can get enrolled for the scheme. The annual cost to the exchequer is expected to be around ₹869.4 crore,” he added.
Jayachandra added that under the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments rules, the government will fix rates for various secondary and tertiary procedures to be paid to private hospitals.
“In emergencies defined for both accidents and medical/surgical emergencies treatment can be provided in the nearest facility available irrespective of government or private to ensure ‘Treatment first and Payment Next’,” Jayachandran said.
“There will be two categories of people under the card,” said Jayachandra. Category A will be a “priority category” that will include “farmers, deprived households, labourers from the unorganised sector, pourakarmikas, all SC/ST people, members of cooperative societies, government employees, media persons and elected representatives”, and the remaining population will fall under Category B.
Citizens under Category B will have to pay an annual premium on the insurance card – Rs 300 per person for people from rural areas and Rs 700 for those from urban places. All primary, secondary and emergency care will be free for people in both categories.
There is no cap on treatment at government hospitals. The patient can visit a private hospital only if the government institution is not equipped to provide the required treatment.
Jayachandran added that Helpline numbers 108 and 104 will provide details regarding procuring free diagnostics, drugs, dialysis and blood units at government hospitals. Citizens will have to call toll free number 1800-425-8330 / 1800-425-2646 to get referred online to government or private hospitals.
Administrative approval has been given to construct super speciality hospitals on the premises of KR Hospital in Mysuru at a cost of ₹123.77 crore and equipment cost of ₹37.62 crore; at Belgaum Institute of Medical Sciences, Belgravia, at a cost of ₹140 crore and equipment cost of ₹54.22 crore; and at Gulbarga Institute of Medical Sciences, Kalaburgi, at a cost of ₹107.60 crore and equipment cost of ₹41.21 crore.
The enrollment for the scheme will be done by ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers who will rely on the data available with the Food and Civil Supplies Department.
“While we will largely rely on the data on households available with the Food and Civil Supplies Department, our ASHA workers will go door to door to verify and enroll every person in the State. The enrollment process will be completed before November 1 and Aadhaar-linked UHC cards will be issued. People without Aadhaar can also avail benefits as we have put in place a biometric system in hospitals. Such people can later get Aadhaar cards,” said Principal Secretary for Health and Family Welfare, Shalini Rajneesh.
Political analyst’s claim the scheme is a bold move if it is aimed at restoring trust in the government’s seriousness about making good healthcare facilities widely accessible.
Chandan Gowda, political analyst and professor at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru said,“It is possible of course that the government wants to woo the electorate. In the last year ahead of elections, or in any other year, the government would like to be appreciated for its good work.”
The Cabinet also discussed the possibility of convening a special session of the legislature to pass the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
The Bill seeks to empower the government to fix rates for different types of treatment and bed charges in private hospitals and nursing homes. The bill is under scrutiny of a joint House committee.