India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

As envisioned, India's "Modicare" will cover some 500 million people who fall below the poverty line. (Shutterstock photo)
Updated 23 September 2018

India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.” 

Afghan polling centers plagued by problems as casualties surge

Updated 8 min 41 sec ago

Afghan polling centers plagued by problems as casualties surge

  • Nearly nine million voters registered for the election, but many are allegedly based on fake identification documents
  • Despite the chaos, the UN said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance”

KABUL: Problems plagued hundreds of Afghan polling centers Sunday in the shambolic legislative election’s second day of voting, fueling criticism of organizers and eroding hopes for credible results after a ballot marred by deadly violence.
As voting restarted in more than 20 provinces, an AFP tally of official casualty figures showed the number of civilians and security forces killed or wounded in poll-related violence on Saturday was nearly 300 — almost twice the figure released by the interior ministry.
The huge discrepancy adds to concerns about the lack of transparency and credibility of the long-delayed election that is seen as a dry run for next year’s presidential vote.
At some of the 253 polling centers opened for voting on Sunday, election workers still struggled to use biometric verification devices and voter rolls were “either incomplete or non-existent,” Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman Ali Reza Rohani told reporters.
“Most of the problems we had yesterday still exist today,” said Rohani, adding some polling sites again opened late and had insufficient ballot papers.
Another 148 polling sites that were supposed to open remained closed for security reasons, the Independent Election Commission told AFP.
The IEC’s chronic mishandling of the parliamentary election, which is the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has all but dashed hopes it can organize the presidential ballot, scheduled for April.
“This does not bode well for next year,” Afghanistan Analysts Network co-director Thomas Ruttig told AFP.
“The IEC has clearly shown its lack of capacity to run acceptable and transparent elections, instead publishing doctored figures.”
A Western official, who had monitored the months-long preparations, told AFP they had no confidence left in the IEC.
“None at all,” they said on the condition of anonymity.
“With the current IEC leadership there are a lot of doubts that they would be able to handle the presidential election properly,” political analyst Haroun Mir said.
Initial IEC figures show around three million people risked their lives to vote on Saturday — many waiting hours for polling centers to open — despite scores of militant attacks.
Nearly nine million voters registered for the parliamentary election, but many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.
But the fact any Afghans turned out to vote was an achievement in itself, some observers noted.
“The people of Afghanistan showed that they are still hopeful for their future,” Mir said.
Despite the shortcomings in the voting process, that was “undoubtedly a great achievement,” he said.
Turnout was likely affected after the Taliban issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house candidates withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.
The militant group on Saturday claimed it carried out more than 400 attacks on the “fake election.”
Official observers described disorder and chaos at polling centers on Saturday where election workers did not know how to use biometric devices that the IEC had rolled out at the eleventh hour to appease political leaders and said were required for votes to be counted.
Many voters who had registered their names months ago were not on the roll, and the Taliban commandeered some polling centers and refused to let people cast their ballots.
There are concerns that extending voting by a day could “impact transparency of the process” and provide “opportunity for fraud,” Election and Transparency Watch Organization of Afghanistan said.
As vote counting continued and officials began the process of transferring ballot boxes to Kabul, Afghan voters and candidates took to social media to vent their frustration at the debacle.
“Shame on the IEC,” Hosai Mangal wrote on the IEC’s official Facebook page.
“There was no order at all, I could not find my name at the polling center where I registered.”
Another angry voter wrote: “The worst elections ever.”
But embattled IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad on Sunday defended the organization’s handling of the election, saying the problems were not due to “weak management.”
Despite the chaos, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has spearheaded international efforts to advise the IEC, said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance.”
UNAMA urged observers, political parties, candidates and voters to play a “constructive role in the days ahead to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process as votes are tallied.”
Elections will be held in the southern province of Kandahar on October 27 after the vote was suspended following Thursday’s assassination of a powerful police chief.