Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda took the opportunity to tout progress under the Centre’s flagship healthcare scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) – popularly known as Ayushman Bharat. In a tweet, the Minister stated that twenty lakh Indians had been covered under the scheme within its first 200 days. He added that patients saved a total of Rs 2,600 crore, thanks to the scheme.
In the run-up to the election, Health Issues India has been campaigning to make healthcare a core part of the political discourse. Both Congress and the BJP outlined a roadmap for health in their manifestos. Congress promised to double government spending on health to three percent of GDP and enact reforms under a Right to Healthcare Act. The BJP pledged to expand coverage under Ayushman Bharat while taking measures to address shortages of facilities and personnel by creating 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres and create medical institutes to train a new generation of doctors.
Ayushman Bharat is an issue Health Issues India has reported heavily upon ever since its launch. While the scheme cannot be faulted for ambition, concerns have often been raised about its implementation and financing, leading to doubts being raised from experts and doctors as well as opposition politicians.
Congress MP Rajiv Gowda told Health Issues India, “I don’t think Ayushman Bharat is a right policy approach and I am sceptical that it would work. If you take the example of America, it has resulted in the escalation of cost and exclusion of large sections of the population. We may end up in a similar situation here as well. Congress wants to focus on public provision so we would concentrate on prioritising public services.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi declared that the scheme “is targeting [a] very limited number of healthcare issues” and accused it of being a “handout to the fifteen to twenty richest businessmen in India”. He said “that’s not the type of scheme [Congress is] going to run. You need public expenditure in health and education.”
The substance of the BJP’s vision for healthcare can be questioned, although the outreach of the Ayushman Bharat scheme is commendable. As the polls are ongoing, it remains to be seen which party’s vision for health will prevail, as voters go to the polls not only for their political beliefs but also for their wellness.