New Delhi: Hundred million poor and vulnerable families will get insurance cover of as much as Rs5 lakh each under a National Health Protection Scheme unveiled by finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech on Thursday.
The insurance scheme, billed as the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme and seen as a precursor to universal health coverage, can be used to pay for hospitalisation and treatment in secondary and tertiary care facilities.
“This will help in extending healthcare to at least 50 crore people in the country," Jaitley said.
Insurance company stocks rose after the announcement. At noon, shares of SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd, New India Assurance Co. Ltd, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd, HDFC Standard Life Insurance Co. Ltd, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd and General Insurance Corp. of India were up 5.9%, 5%, 3.37%, 2 .46% 1.03% and 0.94%, respectively, on the BSE.
Jaitley announced another programme—Ayushman Bharat initiative—to provide comprehensive healthcare with a focus on maternal and child health services. Two dozen new government medical colleges and hospitals will be established and existing district hospitals will be upgraded under the programme.
Over 150,000 health and wellness centres will be set up with an allocation of Rs1,200 crore, Jaitley said. Considering the growing burden of tuberculosis and most patients’ inability to pay for their food requirements, the finance minister allocated Rs600 crore to provide nutritional support for each tuberculosis patient. Under the provision, Rs500 a month will be paid through the treatment period to each patient.
The finance minister urged the private sector to support the government’s healthcare initiatives through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic activities.
The healthcare industry welcomed the government’s announcements.
“Such ambitious, out-of-the-box thinking was a burning need of the hour and the government has not disappointed. The initiative to cover 10 crore families with Rs5 lakh per family/per year insurance cover will be a game changer," said Prathap Reddy, chairman, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd.
Besides reinforcing access healthcare, the health insurance cover will lead to the creation of jobs in the sector as new facilities come up in districts and villages, said Antony Jacob, CEO, Apollo Munich Health Insurance. “This move will go a long way in empowering India’s poor and underprivileged," he added.