The health insurance scheme launched by the UPA-I government failed miserably, as only 1.40 crore poor could be treated under it, in the last about nine years. Moreover, the health insurance coverage treatment was only Rs 30,000 per annum per family.

The government has spent a huge amount of money for the scheme, which came into operation on 1 April 2008. It was supposed to cover the entire BPL population (about 37 % of the country’s population). However, it has so far benefited hardly 1% of the population, in terms of hospitalisation, in nine years.

The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) was launched in 2008 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, till the last financial year, only 3.63 crore people were enrolled and provided the “health smart card”, while only 1.40 crore people benefited at the time of hospitalisation.

Initially, the RSBY was a project under the Ministry of Labour and Employment but it was transferred to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from April 2015. A Centrally-sponsored scheme, the RSBY covers BPL families (a unit of five), and 11 other defined categories—building and construction workers, railway porters, street vendors, MNREGA workers, beedi workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, mine workers, rickshaw pullers, rag pickers and auto/taxi drivers. Under the scheme, they are entitled for cashless health insurance coverage of Rs 30,000 per annum per family in government public and private hospitals.

Sources said though the scheme was announced, no sincere effort was made to ensure that its benefits reach the needy persons. “The government did not have the right intention to provide health services to the poor. The amount, Rs 30,000, was too less. It was like a ‘jhunjhoona’. Therefore, there was no excitement about the RSBY, both among the people and the health service providers,” said Ashutosh Kumar Singh, chairman of Swasth Bharat Trust and health activist.

Though there has not been any recent study on the impact of the scheme, a study conducted by the Council for Social Development (CSD) four years ago, said that the scheme had little or no impact on medical impoverishment in India. According to the study, increase in outpatient expenditure, hospitalisation and medicines have compelled insurance companies to exclude several diseases out of their policies, thus making it unaffordable for BPL families.

Interestingly, Congress leaders criticised the Centre after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) in the Union Budget last week. As per the scheme, not only the coverage has been increased to Rs 5 lakh per family per annum, it has also been decided to cover 10 crore families, therefore benefiting about 50 crore people annually.

Singh said the new scheme, announced by the Centre, will help the poor get better health facilities. “Moreover, this will also lead to infrastructural improvement in the district level hospitals as well as those at the block level. This will also encourage the health service providers to go to remote areas, which are at present confined to tier I and tier II cities,” he said. However, Singh said it will take three-four years for the benefit to reach the real beneficiaries.

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