Congress manifesto smartly targets BJP on health reforms

The party devalues BJP’s Ayushman Bharat scheme with Universal Health Coverage and promises legislation for the Right to Health in India


By Manzoor-ul-Hassan

The Congress on Tuesday released its election manifesto and promised to double the expenditure on the healthcare sector in India to 3 per cent of the GDP.

“The Congress promises that the total government expenditure on healthcare will be doubled to 3 per cent of GDP by the year 2023-24. The Annual Budgets will indicate the step up in each year in order to achieve the target,” it said.

The manifesto also assured to bring in legislation for the Right to Health in the country to guarantee right to healthcare services of every citizen which will cover free diagnostics, out-patient care, medicines and hospitalisation through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals.

It has criticised the much-hyped Ayushman Bharat scheme launched by BJP-led government last year and said, “We are of the firm belief that the insurance-based model cannot be the preferred model to provide universal healthcare in our country.”

“The Congress promises to vigorously promote and implement the free public hospitals-model to provide universal healthcare,” the party promised.

Congress party’s concept of ‘Universal Health Coverage’ is a total reversal of BJP’s health policy as it has the provision of boosting public health hospitals and other infrastructure, not just extending financial support to patients. However, the BJP’s health coverage lacks ‘universal coverage’ and at the moment is silent on boosting the public sector.

The manifesto has smartly downgraded BJP’s Ayushman Bharat scheme and promised as the scheme faced severe criticism in different states.

As Healthwire reviewed earlier, the benefits, as claimed by the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, make the scheme very popular among many poor families. However, many probable beneficiaries have been left out because the programme only covers BPL families registered in Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011.

Although, more than 50 crore Indians have been covered under the Ayushman Bharat insurance scheme as per the official claims, people from other economically weaker sections, who regularly face debt following different diseases and families with a monthly income of Rs 10,000, have been dropped.

Some states ruled by non-BJP parties have already downgraded the scheme and rejected the Central government’s plan to implement it.

Other important promises in the health manifesto of the Congress include recruitment of doctors to improve doctor-patient ratio and establishing more medical colleges.

“We will promote AYUSH, the Indian systems of medicine, in the provision of healthcare services and especially in preventive healthcare and implement a programme that will enable State Governments to revamp and equip the network of primary health centres (PHCs),” it reads.

Congress also promises to implement the National Mental Health Policy, 2014 and the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 in letter and spirit.

“We will ensure that mental healthcare professionals are appointed in all public district hospitals and that mental healthcare services are provided in such hospitals,” it says.

A leading public health expert and former president of the Delhi Medical Association, Dr Narendra Saini, told Healthwire that “it is appreciable that political parties are talking about health sector in their manifesto. It will make a health sector a priority. But the promises mentioned in the manifesto should have been defined so that people understand and trust them,” he said.

Dr Saini said the concept of Universal Health Coverage mentioned in Congress manifesto is a good step but should have defined how will the party implement the health benefit scheme at a time when hospitals are facing shortage of infrastructure.

“The manifesto has mentioned that the healthcare spending will be increased by 3 per cent. But the party is delaying its implementation to 2023-2024. It should be done now,” he said.

Dr Saini said BJP’s Ayushman Bharat also faced similar problems as it didn’t work on the government support to be received by the hospitals.

“Insurance or non-insurance based models, parties should come clear on the mechanism through they will run big health schemes,” he said.

Another healthcare entrepreneur, Nigam Gupta, said the political parties had been hoodwinked people during elections.

“The manifesto by Congress has also attempted to do so provided they have some concrete plans to make it a success within a few years,” he said.

Gupta said the successive regimes had failed to increase the health budget while we have defence budget at 14.9 per cent. “This is an unfortunate scenario and the party which will change this will be successful always and gain popularity,” he said.

Dr Jaideep Malhotra, a leading gynecologist and former presidentn of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI) told Healthwire that the health manifesto of Congress sounds interesting. However, it has come after a huge gap of three decades.“It is not about the manifesto, it’s about the implementation at the ground level. We have become so corrupt that it is now in our genes. We need someone to understand the ground realities and then make policies,” she said.

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