A look into India's “Modicare”, the world's largest health insurance company

NEW DELHI – The Indian government has launched the Ayushman Bharat Scheme, a health insurance program said to be the largest in the world. This program, called Modicare, promises to provide health insurance to 500 million poor people across the country.

The nickname “Modicare” refers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised every poor family health insurance worth 500,000 rupees ($6,900) to treat serious illnesses.

At the official launch on Sunday in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand, Modi claimed that such insurance does not exist on a large scale anywhere in the world.

According to him, the insurance company will turn India into a medical hub in the future. “An important step towards providing quality and accessible healthcare services to the poor in India,” he said.

“More than 100 million families will benefit,” he said.

The program, first announced in February as part of the annual budget, is expected to cost the central government and 29 states a total of $1.6 billion annually.

Expenditure is shared 60 to 40 percent by the central and state governments in most states and funding is gradually increased as required.

On Sunday, Modi handed over the health card at the launch in Ranchi. He called the launch day a “historic day” for India.

He said the government wants to set up 50,000 health centers across the country in the next four years.

“This system will not have a clear plan based on sect or caste. There will be no discrimination based on race or any fraternity,” Modi said.

India has so far spent just 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, compared to the global average of six percent.

The country's overburdened public health system suffers from a shortage of hospitals and doctors, and most people use private clinics and hospitals when they can afford it.

But a private consultation can cost 1,000 rupees ($15), a huge sum for millions of people who live on less than $2 a day.

According to government estimates, more than 60 percent of the average family's expenses go toward medicine and health care.

“There has been a lot of concern about human resources, but I think our health sector will be a world-class health sector in 10 to 15 years,” said Ilias Ali, a doctor based in Guwahati city AlJazeerawhich was published on Monday (September 24, 2018).

Experts have praised the Indian government's latest program but say it should cover everyday healthcare and not just more serious and long-term secondary and tertiary care.

“Modicare does not cover primary health care, which we believe is the weakest link in public health delivery in India,” said Rajiv Lall and Vivek Dehejia of the group Think tank IDFC Institute in a column for a newspaper Mint.

“The key point is that poorly maintained primary care increases the health and financial burden at secondary and tertiary levels,” the group said.