NEW DELHI : India is aiming to plug significant gaps in providing healthcare in smaller cities and towns under the ambitious Ayushman Bharat programme by signing up hospitals operated by state-run companies and Indian Railways, two senior government officials said.

Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba wrote to secretaries of all ministries, chief secretaries of all states and Railway Board chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav on 1 November in this respect. “It has been decided that all public hospitals should be empanelled under AB-PMJAY (Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) in order to expand its coverage," Gauba said in the letter, reviewed by Mint.

NITI Aayog adviser Alok Kumar had raised concerns about the world’s largest health insurance programme at an industry event in November. He said that a number of hospitals in smaller cities—including those run by state-run enterprises—are under-utilized, even though there is strong demand for their services in these regions especially because of the insurance programme.

“Singrauli, the power capital of India, has hospitals of NTPC and Coal India Ltd; all of them underutilized (like) shells standing. Railway hospitals (are like) shells standing but not being utilized efficiently enough," Kumar said then.

Since the letter was written, 236 hospitals have got themselves empanelled under the health insurance scheme, officially called Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), while nearly 700 more that are left are in talks to join the scheme, said one of the two people cited earlier, on condition of anonymity.

The 236 hospitals operated by public sector undertakings (PSUs) include 91 operated by the ministry of railways, in places such as Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh, Ajmer, Kota, Jodhpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan, Gaya and Garhara in Bihar, Gonda and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, among others, according to a document seen by Mint. Another 36 hospitals under ministry of coal, at places like Korba, Churcha, Bisrampur and Kurasia, have also been empanelled.

Ten hospitals of Employees’ State Insurance Corporation were empanelled, at Kalaburagi in Karnataka, Rudrapur in Uttarakhand and Ankleshwar in Gujarat, among others.

The government’s push to get public hospitals empanelled is due to a lack of secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities in poorer regions.

The PMJAY, launched in September 2018, aims to provide health insurance for secondary and tertiary hospitalization to over 100 million poor and vulnerable families, which would total around 500 million beneficiaries.

Since its launch, over 7.8 million patients have availed of insurance services under the scheme at over 21,271 hospitals across the country, information on the PMJAY website showed as of Saturday.

However, a research conducted by PMJAY for April-July last year showed that there was disparity in where these services were availed of, based on the disease burden and socio-economic status.

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