PMJAY made 2018 a momentous year for health in India

health worker collecting details of aayushman Bharat

The first baby step towards Universal Health Coverage, PMJAY will be truly tested only in 2019

Whenever the journey of healthcare in India is chronicled, 2018 will feature as an important year. Because the year that has just a few hours left to go, saw India take its first baby step towards Universal Health Coverage when the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) was launched in September.

PMJAY provides an annual health cover of approximately $8000 to 500 million people – about 40% of India’s 1.25 billion population. While neither the coverage amount nor the population covered are exceptional, the initiative certainly is.

Especially in a country that has, for the last decade at least, promised to increase health spend to 2.5% GDP without any serious effort to do so.

The crucial question of whether a health scheme can win elections could decide the very trajectory of future healthcare spend in India

In that respect, 2018 comes second only to 2005 in order of significance. In 2005 the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had launched the National Rural Health Mission that has since changed the face of healthcare in rural India. It has also received the lion’s share of budgetary allocation in health every year. It has survived scams and indifferent governance to still remain the mainstay of India’s health system.

Launch of PMJAY therefore was a massive step; but a first step nevertheless. The yet nascent scheme still has a long way to go. Critics have flayed it for the lack of effective linkage with health and wellness centres – the primary and preventive care arm of Ayushman Bharat, the flagship health programme of the NDA government. PMJAY is the tertiery care arm of Ayushman Bharat.

How far it goes will of course be decided as much by the administration of the scheme by the National Health Agency, as the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The NDA government which came to power amidst apprehensions of social sector schemes being neglected, is banking big on schemes such as PMJAY and Ujjwala – under which LPG connections are being given to poor families. The health scheme is being personally monitored by prime minister Narendra Modi.

The crucial question of whether a health scheme can win elections could decide the very trajectory of future healthcare spend in India.

If, a party known for its almost mythical prowess at the hustings stumbles while trying to vault over the elections using PMJAY as a pole, it could spell doom for increasing public spend in healthcare for many years to come.