The recent budget announced by the Indian Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley is neither a radical game changer nor a damp squib. The announced budget contains a slew of measures for the agriculture and rural sectors, a new health insurance scheme (Called Modicare henceforth) has been announced for the poor and a small relief in income tax for the salaried class and senior citizens.
It is only rarely that one sees a spark of envisioning that can potentially alter the destiny of a nation. Modicare is one such move.
How can health care be fixed in India? It is a vast and complex problem. But something had to be attempted. Now, it appears, that a tentative movement has been made. Can Modicare improve the health of the nation? If this money is used for very focused goals, it can. Say, for primary care, ensuring nutrition for the young ones and women, creating a MOOC that can be used to educate and empower, a system with clear objectives and metrics, led by a team of our brightest and cleanest. Gargantuan is the word that comes to mind when I think of the possibilities.
Modicare has received quite some flak, but the fate of PM Modi is such that even if he were to carpet bomb the headquarters of Hafiz Saeed tomorrow, he would be criticized for being reckless and intolerant. Firstly, the fiscal burden has been put in question, for the plan would require money to be sustained. However, little do critics realize that the fiscal burden is not always about the money spent, but also about the money that could have been earned, created, or pushed into the economy had the population not been plagued with diseases. Yes, money is going to be spent to implement this plan, but money is also being lost annually due to diseases, especially the non-communicable ones, given they are not detected unless the problem becomes incurable or irreversible.
But unfortunately for Mamata Banerjee all these things didn’t matter. Seasoned politician that the Bengal Chief Minister is, she went ahead and politicized a policy that could have helped millions of people in her very own state. West Bengal became the first state in the country to opt out of Modicare, PM Modi’s ambitious healthcare insurance plan. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, slammed the Centre for not consulting the states before unveiling Modicare, as she announced her government’s decision to opt out of the healthcare scheme.
Mamata Banerjee was addressing a a public meeting in West Bengal’s Krishnanagar, where she said that the state will not “waste its hard-earned resources” in the programme. Under Modicare, the Centre is supposed to contribute Rs 2,000 crores out of a total cost of Rs 5,500 crore to Rs 6,000 crore. State governments are expected to pay the remainder.
It is only worthwhile to revisit the story of Dr. Arunachal Dutta, who “was” working in Barasat, in North 24 Paraganas. The said Doctor had been in serving as a specialist with the government from 1983, He was suspended for disclosing the truth about state of Dengue outbreak and largescale mismanagement in state of West Bengal.
Doctor Arunachal Dutta exposed the failure of the state in a series of posts on Facebook some of which presented mind numbing stats. Here is his post:
The 62-year-old Doctor described how he was facing a war like situation with impossible 9AM-TO-9AM-24-hours shifts. His post also contained a picture of the Hospital admission board showing that there were 250 admissions under him and the number of assigned nurses were just 3. The care that a dedicated doctor can provide with such shortage of staff and the burden can only be imagined.
This one incident is sufficient to prove the state of healthcare in West Bengal is in doldrums, and Mamata Banerjee choosing to opt out of Modicare that attempts to provide basic healthcare cover to the people in the lowest rung of the society is unfortunate, to say the least.
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