Bengaluru: The Karnataka cabinet on Monday approved a universal health coverage (UHC) scheme aimed at providing free medical assistance 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.

Healthcare facilities will be provided through an Aadhar-linked universal health card.

T.B. Jayachandra, law and parliamentary affairs minister of Karnataka, said the scheme will become operational on 1 November.

Karnataka has seven different healthcare schemes which would be merged under Aarogya Bhagya, which would cost the state exchequer Rs869.4 crore, Jayachandra said.

The facilities would be provided by categorising the beneficiaries into two groups—A and B.

Category A, comprising about 10.5 million households, would include farmers, teachers of aided schools, Anganwadi (childcare centre) workers, scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, sanitation workers, unorganized workers, public servants and even media professionals. The beneficiaries wouldn’t have to make any contribution towards the scheme.

Around three million households who do not come under the above categories would be enrolled in the scheme; those in rural areas would need to contribute 00 per person and those in urban areas 700 per person.

Siddaramaiah, who stormed to power with his AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) support base in 2013, has launched multiple such schemes to consolidate his position.

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’," Jayachandra said.

Chandan Gowda, political analyst and professor at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, said 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.

“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," he said.

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