Universal Healthcare in India has been facing its worst demons early on in its course due to the enormous impact of COVID-19 in the country. While formulating strategies to tackle the virus that managed to put the entire world on a halt, our policymakers had to take some huge leaps in order to ensure that a proper system exists for all those who require medical attention and suffer from serious illness such as cancer and heart conditions. It can be considered to be a ‘pseudo- nationalization’ of private hospitals in India as the National Health Authority introduced its plans to empanel a large number of the same, under the purview of the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (AB PMJAY).
This unorthodox venture is to be known as the Hospital Empanelment Module Lite (HEM) and will be primarily focusing on providing medical aid to patients who suffer from recurrent diseases requiring consistent treatment. This is to be achieved while simultaneously preventing the patients from contracting COVID-19. This step proved to be the need of the hour as with the ever-increasing number of coronavirus cases, the patients already admitted at the hospital or requiring to be admitted and attended to, became the most susceptible to contracting the virus.
● Importance of this development
This particular amendment to the AB PMJAY scheme is ostensibly an effective alternative to the predicament at hand. It not only ensures that the existing patients and patients suffering from serious ailments other than COVID-19 are taken care of, but goes on to the extent of protecting them from the virus itself. The boldness of such a measure remains unprecedented and if implemented judiciously, this operation would be able to save countless lives amid a grave crisis.
Furthermore, the CEO of the Ayushman Bharat PMJAY scheme as well as the National Health Authority, Dr.Indu Bhushan expressed that this crucial step was taken to substitute the number of hospitals under the scheme as many of the enrolled hospitals had converted to dedicated COVID-19 facilities to help recover the affected patients exclusively. Consequently, the Centre had to come up with a strategy for the provision of safe and secure treatments to patients covered under the AB PMJAY scheme.
Another noteworthy feature of this development is that it also contributes in optimal empanelment of dedicated COVID-19-only facilities as they would be continuously assisting in the country’s battle against the disgraced coronavirus.
● Implementation of this policy
Empanelment of private hospitals led to a drastic increase in the number of healthcare facilities listed under the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Under the new process, private hospitals amounted to 78.4% of the hospitals empaneled as opposed to government hospitals that, after two years, amounted to 56% of the total number of hospitals listed. In terms of numbers, 1006 out of the 1789 hospitals brought under the purview of the scheme since April 2020 were private while the rest 783 were from the public sector.
This development expands the workforce against COVID-19 to a great extent and provides the much-needed economic aid for private healthcare workers. At the same time, it also increases the number of people who could come in contact with those infected. In an ideal situation, with the right protection equipment such as PPE kits and face masks, this phenomenon may be controlled if not avoided.
● Legal Basis
The scheme primarily finds its origins within the recommendations made by the National Health Policy 2017 seeking to implement Universal Health Coverage in the country. Not only does the AB PMJAY enforce the fundamental right of health but it also fulfills the Government of India’s responsibility to promote the betterment of public health under Part IV of the Indian Constitution. Apart from a constitutional basis, the policy of public healthcare in India has a long legal history while taking multiple forms such as the National Rural Health Mission and Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. There was a need of a flagship scheme that could provide for a more inclusive and convenient approach to healthcare in India. As a result, the Ayushman Bharat Scheme was launched under the guidance of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India.
● Probable way forward
The AB PMJAY scheme has a unique feature that allows it to adapt so as to efficiently tackle upcoming challenges. As with its battle against the COVID-19, the scheme has been operating in accordance with the orders declared by the Supreme Court. But where does one go from here? It is quite obvious that this crisis is going to be a persona non grata for a long time. Thus, the scheme would prove to be extremely instrumental for the people requiring treatment or any other medical aid in a manner that would allow them to be safe from the virus. Furthermore, it will also be of assistance in procuring COVID-19 tests as per the Supreme Court direction on April 8, 2020 which ordered the private labs to be philanthropic towards the economically weaker sections.
The PMJAY has the potential to facilitate the growth and development of private healthcare in remote areas which means that there would be more alternatives for the inhabitants. However, the scheme has its fair share of predicaments to deal with which include its diversion in undesirable directions. It is imperative to realize that shifting responsibilities of the public healthcare system onto the private sector is not something that could possibly be feasible in the long run. Overall, it may be said that the Ayushman Bharat scheme hasn’t completely achieved clarity but that is not to say it doesn’t benefit an entire section of underprivileged people.
Recent developments influencing public healthcare in India have emerged as a reaction to the threat that COVID-19 poses to our society. Ayushman Bharat, in this sense, was perhaps considered to be the ideal instrument with a few minor adjustments. The scheme’s current outlay allows patients suffering from other serious diseases such as cancer to receive medical care while reducing the risk of contracting the corona virus. Therefore, AB PMJAY proved to be a relief for many even in the instance of procuring the requisite tests.
The AB PMJAY aims to provide for a population larger than that of the continent of North America. While it has made considerable contributions towards the betterment of healthcare in India, there are a few gray areas that need to be taken care of in the years to come. Learning from its contemporary healthcare laws could be a crucial step towards perfecting a clear blueprint of the scheme.
To sum up, the Ayushman Bharat scheme is still young and has a long way to go as far as its proper development is concerned and fortunately, it has mechanisms in place to help fulfill its short-term goals as well. Therefore, every step with regards to the scheme must be taken carefully so as to be sure that it becomes a beacon of hope for the poor rather than ending up as a political band-aid bound to be sidelined with time.
Author - Amitabh Abhijit
Student at Student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal.