New Delhi: The union government Thursday decided to open up hundreds of hospitals running under the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) to general public and offer subsidized medicine and provide out-patient and in-patient facilities at a nominal cost.

The move may help decongest government hospitals in districts and industrial towns, and reduce healthcare cost for millions by easing dependence on private-run medical facilities.

The labour ministry-run ESIC has 154 hospitals and 1,500 dispensaries across India currently catering to the healthcare need of industrial workers who are subscribers of the corporation.

ESIC said, while its hospitals will provide out-patient facility to common people at just 10 per visit, for in-patient treatment it will charge one-fourth of what CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme) hospitals charges.

The corporation said its central board headed by labour minister Santosh Gangwar has taken the decision and it will be first implemented as a pilot for one-year at hospitals where the footfall of its subscribers are low, which means a majority of its hospitals will be available to public within next few weeks. Based on the outcome and experience in the first year, the move will become permanent.

In a country where the doctor-to-patient ratio is ten times of the required level, such a move is being seen as more inclusive approach and better utilization of the resources available. According to official data, there are one doctor per 11,082 patients as against a desired level of 1:1000.

“The medicine will be charged on actual rate not on MRP. It means patients will be charged on the price that the corporation procures from the market,"a spokesperson of the ESIC said.

“It will immensely help common people get the quality medical care at very low cost. Besides, it will ensure full utilization of resources of hospital for people cause," the corporation said in a separate statement.

According to official data, the ESIC is in a good financial health. In 2017-18, its revenue income was 23,480 crore which includes subscribers contribution income of 20,077 crore. In the same year, its expenditure was only 9,161 crore effectively giving it a sizeable amount of surplus to have braider plans.

A board member of the ESIC, who requested anonymity, however, said that the corporation will have to quickly fill up its vacancies to extend services else its plan will face the hurdle in the form of severe staff crunch.

The corporation said its board has approved filling up of 5,200 posts across its facilities including over 530 doctors and 2,768 posts of paramedical and nursing staff. At present, it has a staff strength of nearly 20,000. The ESIC board also approved to hire specialist and super specialist doctors through open tender to shorten its hiring time.

The ESI Act applies to organisations where 10 or more persons are employed and all employees drawing salary upto 21,000 are mandatorily covered under the act. Under the Act eligible employees contribute 1.75% of their salary (basic + allowances) and employers contribute 4.75% to the ESI corpus every month. At present, the corporation has a base of 3.43 crore insured persons commonly referred as subscribers.

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