In its first year, Ayushman Bharat led to nine hospital admissions every minute for those covered under the scheme.
Ayushman Bharat, or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), has allowed beneficiaries to avail fifty lakh treatments according to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “The Ayushman Bharat family is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “In just over one year, under PMJAY more than fifty lakh treatments have been availed by beneficiaries across the country. The successful implementation of this scheme will help us take forward Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s vision of ‘Antyodaya’- the upliftment of the last man.”
Ayushman Bharat has been a priority of Vardhan during his tenure at the Union Health Ministry, to which he was appointed following the BJP’s victory in this year’s Lok Sabha polls. He named strengthening the scheme his “top priority”. Indeed, now that the scheme has completed a year of execution, the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has touted the progress it has made. Within its first year, 46.4 lakh treatments worth Rs 7,500 crore were dispensed.
Now, fifty lakh treatments worth Rs 7,901 crore have been administered. Tertiary care accounts for more than sixty percent of spending under the scheme, primarily specialising in cardiology, cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, orthopaedics, radiation oncology, and urology. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have been named as the best-performing states.
The increase in the number of treatments and hospital admissions made under the scheme is cause for celebration for the Centre. However, officials are keen to emphasise that more needs to be done.
“The scheme will continue to focus on reducing catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditure, improving access to quality health care and meeting the unmet need of the population for hospitalisation care,” said Dr Indu Bhushan, who serves as chief executive officer of the National Health Authority which is responsible for Ayushman Bharat’s implementation. This, he said, has the objective of universal health coverage in mind. Prime Minister Modi has named Ayushman Bharat as one of the main tenets of his administration’s strategy to reach universal healthcare.
Out-of-pocket spending on health is a major contributor to poverty in India, driving untold numbers of Indians into poverty as noncommunicable diseases – which are often chronic in nature and require lifelong treatment and management – are on the rise. Despite Ayushman Bharat, it was reported in January that out-of-pocket spending on health may account for almost eighty percent of the total expenditure on health in India. Ayushman Bharat may be crucial to alleviating this financial burden. To do so, however, reforms need to be made to address a number of issues hampering the scheme.
Firstly, there is mismanagement of funds. State governments have been castigated for failing to spend funds allocated to it by the Centre and earmarked for implementing Ayushman Bharat. In the case of Bihar, less than one-third of Rs 88.5 crore issued was spent. Even the Prime Minister has taken state governments to task for their failures to properly implement Ayushman Bharat, rebuking Bihar, as well as Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Nagaland, and Sikkim, for their performance on the initiative.
Low awareness of the scheme is another issue. In states such as Bihar and Haryana, fewer than twenty percent of denizens are aware of Ayushman Bharat and the benefits it can offer them. As a case in point, during the Muzaffarpur tragedy wherein well in excess of 150 children died due to malnourishment and encephalitis, just 36 of the eligible families affected accessed treatment under Ayushman Bharat. As such, low awareness may be contributing to the continued levels of catastrophic out-of-pocket spending in the country.
“[Ayushman Bharat] is an important milestone in the journey of creating a healthy India,” Modi said recently. “It would make every Indian proud that in a year, over fifty lakh citizens have benefited from free of cost treatment thanks to Ayushman Bharat. Apart from curing, this scheme is empowering several Indians.” To build on this progress, the issues dogging the scheme must be addressed.