New Delhi: The Centre’s flagship scheme Ayushman Bharat—National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) will be launched on 25 September this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday during his speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the country’s 72nd Independence Day.

The scheme, popularly known as Modicare and billed as the world’s largest health assurance scheme, aims to provide 5 lakh insurance cover per family per year to more than 10 crore poor and vulnerable families for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.

“My government has been working for the last four years to empower the poor and we will launch the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aroyga Abhiyan on the birth anniversary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay on 25 September this year. The government decided to start the scheme in order to provide good healthcare facilities to the poor and common people, so that for serious ailments, they also receive free health facilities in big hospitals," Modi said.

“In the coming to four to five weeks, the technology testing for the scheme will be started. We are making our best efforts to make it foolproof. When someone is sick, the entire family suffers due to the hefty costs incurred on the treatment. With our health insurance scheme, they will not need to borrow money for availing healthcare services," he said.

The Prime Minister said it is high time that we ensure that poor people have access to good quality healthcare. Many hospitals will be built in tier 2 and 3 cities generating employment opportunities, he said.

Modi observed that not many people know how big the scheme is and said that the it will benefit approximately as many people a the population of the US, Canada and Mexico combined.

The national health insurance scheme will be implemented through more than 300,000 common service centers (CSCs) across the country, which are access points with basic computing infrastructure run and operated by a local entrepreneur. These centres will help beneficiaries to identify their names in the ministry of health database and learn about their entitlements under the scheme.

The Centre has already allocated about Rs10,000 crore for the project. The health ministry has launched a formal process to empanel public and private hospitals with the aim of ensuring universal health coverage under the programme. At the national level, all guidelines covering the scheme are in place and the IT backbone has been prepared. Flexibility has been accorded to states with regard to coverage, cost and the insurance model.

Currently, 28 states are on board for inclusion in the AB- NHPM scheme while eight states have yet to join.

The private sector has welcomed the announcement, looking forward for more reforms and improvements in the healthcare sector.

“While the launch of the scheme is highly welcome, what is also needed to be addressed on a parallel track is accessibility to doctors and hospitals. Without improving our doctor-patient ratio, without increasing penetration of hospitals and tertiary care centres, without ensuring that all health centres in rural areas are equipped with specialists and diagnostic facilities, even this ambitious scheme will only partially serve the purpose," said Dharminder Nagar, managing director, Paras Healthcare.

“We welcome the initiative by which the government takes on the burden and shares the cost of providing healthcare to those who cannot afford it. As the first step towards universal health coverage, this is a pivotal moment in the country’s healthcare journey that will require the entire healthcare ecosystem, public and private, to work with a collective sense of purpose and synchrony," said Prathap C. Reddy, founder and chairman Apollo Hospitals Group.

The Prime Minister also announced that women officers would now be eligible for permanent commission in the armed forces through a transparent selection process, in a major decision that seeks to increase the participation of women in the forces.

Modi also noted that the practice of triple talaq has caused great injustice to Muslim women and assured them that he will work to ensure that justice is done to them.

On the scientific front, the Prime Minister that Gagan Yaan, a manned space mission would be undertaken by India by 2022 and said that this would make India the fourth nation in the world to do so.

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