The Centre’s flagship health insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat is enrolling Indians in droves, but low awareness in parts of the country could be hampering its implementation.
The initiative – officially known as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) – is nearing the first anniversary of its launch this month and has enjoyed significant success according to the latest figures. Savings of Rs 12,000 crore have been made by 41 lakh beneficiaries, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has reported.
Describing the scheme as “India’s road to universal healthcare”, Vardhan said “the Prime Minister has spelt out his commitment, in no uncertain terms, that the health of our citizens is his government’s topmost priority. The charismatic Prime Minister has fast-tracked many policy initiatives aimed at achieving all the core tenets of Universal Health Coverage to deliver affordable and inclusive healthcare for all.”
However, the rollout of the scheme has not been smooth – and awareness among potential beneficiaries varies significantly from state to state. Whilst there is eighty percent awareness in Tamil Nadu, the figure is less than twenty percent in states such as Bihar and Haryana. Bihar was one of a number of states Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reportedly displeased with concerning implementation of the scheme, along with Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Nagaland, and Sikkim. Bihar had previously been flagged for spending less than one-third of funds allocated to it by the Centre for the purposes of Ayushman Bharat.
For the maximum number of Indians to benefit from the scheme, efforts need to be made by health authorities in states where awareness is low. Ensuring Ayushman Bharat materials are accessible for those with poor literacy is also important according to officials. “We found that letters had reached [targeted beneficiaries], but many of them in Bihar had not even opened the envelopes… because they couldn’t read,” said one. “In many cases even their beneficiary cards received in post remained unopened. They said they knew it entitled them to something but they could not explain what that was.”
For Dr Indu Bhushan, chief executive officer of the National Health Authority (NHA), tackling awareness needs to be a priority going forward. “After a year of implementation we feel that the biggest challenge before us is the low awareness level about Ayushman Bharat,” he said. “We need to take the scheme to the last mile. Our survey also suggests that beneficiaries do not know how they can avail of the scheme. This needs to be worked upon.”