Addressing parliamentarians during Question Hour, Vardhan said that approximately 10.74 crore families were covered under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), better known as Ayushman Bharat. Vardhan emphasised the flexibility of the scheme in terms of the cooperation between the Centre and state governments. “States are free to add additional families at their own cost,” Vardhan stated. He noted that states can implement Ayushman Bharat as they decide, including insurance, trust, or mixed models. Some states, including Kerala, have integrated Ayushman Bharat with their existing healthcare schemes.
The initiative has been a pillar of the Centre’s initiatives related to healthcare and development ever since its announcement in last year’s Union Budget. Since the BJP government was returned to government in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, expansion of the scheme has been a priority of the Union Health Ministry. Shortly after the elections, it was announced that the scheme could potentially expand to cover as much as 75 percent of the country’s population while the number of health and wellness centres to administer primary healthcare under the scheme will expand. 40,000 such facilities are planned to be operational by the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year.
To facilitate implementation of the initiative, the scheme was allocated a boon of Rs 6,400 crore in this year’s Union Budget. This was in stark contrast to the marginal increase afforded to the remainder of the healthcare budget. It is unclear, however, if this will allay the fears of healthcare experts and economists about funding for the scheme. Crores of families are enjoying coverage at present. However, it remains to be seen if the Centre’s ambitions for further expansion of Ayushman Bharat will translate to reality.