Can India’s Plan to Give Half a Billion People Free Health Care Really Work?

Can India’s Plan to Give Half a Billion People Free Health Care Really Work?
A doctor checks the X-ray of a man receiving treatment at the Swaroop Rani Medical college hospital, Allahabad, India, Feb. 1, 2018 (AP photo by Rajesh Kumar Singh).

On Feb. 1, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a massive new health care program, already dubbed “Modicare,” aimed at providing free coverage to half a billion people. Yet details over when and how the program will be rolled out are still being formulated, with serious questions over how it will be funded. In an email interview, Indrani Gupta, a professor and head of the Health Policy Research Unit of the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi, discusses the ambitious new policy, India’s current health care system and the challenges ahead.

WPR: What is driving the government’s ambitious plan to offer free health care to hundreds of millions of people in India? How does this differ from previous attempts at government-sponsored health care reform?

Indrani Gupta: The government’s 2018 budget introduces two major health care schemes. The first aims to strengthen primary care through the establishment of 150,000 health and wellness centers. The second is the National Health Protection Scheme, or NHPS, which plans to offer free care to about 40 percent of the population through the extension of insurance-based hospitalization coverage.

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