The elections for the 17th Lok Sabha are slated for April 2019. Modi’s National Democratic Alliance continues to hold a lead over the opposing United Progressive Alliance, but that lead is slipping. NDA maintained a few hundred seat lead over UPA for most of 2017 and 2018, but that lead by the NDA has slipped in recent opinion polls. Hoping to rally support before the elections, Modi and the BJP have unveiled a massive new nationalized healthcare program for India’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Being dubbed ‘Modicare’, this plan will cover 500 million people across India’s most susceptible portions of society. The plan promises to cover 100 million of the poorest Indian families with free treatment. Modicare will be the largest healthcare plan in the world, and with no doubt will be a massive undertaking for the BJP government.
Though this plan may seem like a political ploy, a revised and expanded healthcare plan is more than needed in India. Currently, India only spends 1% of its massive annual 2.3 trillion dollar Gross Domestic Product on healthcare. On a person to person basis, the average Indian only spends $267 a year on healthcare. Compared to $731 per person in China or even $9,403 per person in the United Kingdom, Indian do not spend much on healthcare. Out of pocket expenses account for 67% of total health care spending in India— the 12th highest rate of its kind in the world. India is incredibly behind when it comes to spending on healthcare, another step the nation must take to move from a developing power to global power.
Besides low spending per person, the healthcare system in India faces many more internal problems. Public healthcare infrastructure is very poor in India, as public hospitals are often underfunded and understaffed. Across the nation, India has less than 15,000 state hospitals. Half of the users of healthcare report care of being poor quality, including an absence of a quality facility and long wait times to be seen. Only 1/3 of Indians have any medical insurance— a strikingly low number for a rising world power. For those who can afford it, many Indians opt for private healthcare which is about 55% of its citizens. The high numbers of Indians looking for alternative care expose the gaping holes in the current public healthcare system in India. Modicare aims to fix some of these issues, but its positive impact will only be seen once the plan is fully implemented.
As many as 55 million Indians were pushed into poverty over the last few years, particularly due to out-of-pocket health care expenses. But with Modicare, most of these expenses will be covered. Modicare promises to provide healthcare coverage at a monetary value of $9,500 to all members of a household for one calendar year. This coverage is desperately needed by millions of Indians who are often left with limited and expensive options to cover their health needs. The beneficiaries of these program will cover those below the poverty line and those working in the informal sector of the economy. Modicare also covers the cost of treatment and hospitalization at the secondary and tertiary levels. The state will pay premiums to private insurers, while those who are a part of the program can seek treatment at any institution that has opted into Modicare. This will provide much broader options for those who previously could afford little to no healthcare.
The government is planning to open 150,000 health and wellness centers across the country, alongside their mission to cover actual medical costs. These centers are more than needed for the rural parts of the country, where Indians often struggle to locate places to receive health care and are out of reach of government programs. There is about $90 million allocated in the budget to build these centers across the country. One of the main goals of Modicare is to provide Indians living in the more rural and remote portions of the country with better access to affordable healthcare.
While these are improvements to healthcare, there have been some fair criticisms of Modicare as well. Modi announced his plan a mere seven to eight months prior to elections, a sign critics say that the NDA seems to care more about votes from those living in poverty than they do about genuinely improving their living standards. Some have also said that the program is already being under funded, with only $300 million being allocated for the first year of the program. The funds for the program will be raised over time however, eventually rising to $1.5 billion per year to cover all costs. Five non-BJP led states have already opted out of the program to continue with their current healthcare models.
While it is very possible that the NDA is using their new program as a way to garner political support prior to an important election, this program is a crucial step in the right direction for India. The public infrastructure for healthcare is incredibly poor in India and needs a massive revamp to fix the current system. Especially since the BJP have promised to work on poverty alleviation, offering free healthcare is a great way to do exactly that. This program will help the poorest in Indian society and will make them not worry nearly as much on healthcare costs. The program will provide a much needed facelift to the current public healthcare system in place, even if the initial phase of the procedure is not perfect. India is a massive and diverse nation, one with many needs and wants, and one program will never be able to cover all of those needs in one shot, However, Modicare is a step in the right direction in regards to the development of Indian healthcare and improving the lives of millions.