National Health Assurance Mission to cost ₹1.6 trillion

India’s universal health plan that aims to offer guaranteed benefits to a sixth of the world’s population will cost an estimated 1.6 trillion rupees ($26 billion) over the next four years. Under the National Health Assurance Mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plans to provide all citizens with free drugs and diagnostic treatment, as well as insurance cover to treat serious ailments.

The proposed plan would be rolled out in phases from April 2015 and will cover the entire population by March 2019.

Despite rapid economic growth in the last 20 years, the government spends only about 1 percent of gross domestic product on healthcare. That compares to 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States.

Government hospitals are overcrowded and lack resources to meet the growing demand, while access to basic health services in rural areas and smaller towns remains poor.

The new plan will focus on improving preventive healthcare services by ensuring adequate availability of medical practitioners in rural areas, while new infrastructure will be created under existing welfare programmes.

Tertiary care services would be provided through an insurance-based model and the government will offer more than 50 drugs free to all its citizens. Along with the drugs, about 12-15 diagnostic treatments will be offered in the package.

The World Bank and Britain’s health cost-effectiveness agency NICE are also assisting India, providing technical assistance and advice on treatments the government should offer in the package.

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