India's Modi launches health insurance for 100 mln families ahead of elections
* India's health plan to provide insurance to 100 mln
* Federal and state govts to fund scheme
* Critics say plan launched in a hurry for political gain
By Manoj Kumar
NEW DELHI, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi launched the world's biggest healthcare programme
on Sunday, aiming to provide free health services to half a
billion poor people, which could boost his chances in national
elections early next year.
The scheme, which the government dubs "Modicare", will
provide 100 million families, or about 500 million poor people,
with health cover of 500,000 rupees per year for free treatment
of serious ailments.
The measures are Modi's latest attempt to reform a public
health system that faces a shortage of hospitals and doctors.
The government has also in recent years capped prices of
critical drugs and medical devices and increased health funding.
But critics say the scheme has been launched in a hurry for
political gain and lacks adequate funds to support it.
India spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on public
health, among the world's lowest, and the health ministry
estimates such funding leads to "catastrophic" expenses that
push 7 percent of the population into poverty each year.
"This is the world's biggest healthcare scheme, benefiting
more than the combined population of the United States, Canada
and Mexico," Modi said after launching the nation-wide plan from
Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
No separate registration would be required for the scheme
and the people could check online whether they were eligible,
Vinod K Paul, a senior official at the NITI Aayog told
Reuters in an interview last week the benefits would be
available at hundreds of empanelled private hospitals as well.
"India’s health system is never going to be the same. It’s a
turning point," he said. Private hospitals and pharmaceutical
companies expect the plan would boost their business.
The scheme has been called a "game changer" by the chairman
of India's Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, Prathap Reddy,
while Jefferies analysts have said companies such as Healthcare
Global Enterprises and Narayana Hrudayalaya
are likely to benefit.
The plan will be initially rolled out in 27 states, where
the federal government will bear 60 percent of the costs and 40
percent would be born by state governments.
($1 = 72.2300 Indian rupees)
(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra and Neha Dasgupta;
Editing by Louise Heavens)
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