October 09, 2009

Pakistan wants to replicate India’s health insurance

The Indo-Pak dialogue may not be moving anywhere at this stage, but it’s a different story when it comes to social schemes for the poor. Pakistan, sources said, has expressed an interest in replicating India’s health insurance scheme for the poor.

The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, an insurance cover for BPL families implemented by the Centre, state and insurance companies, has caught the attention of Islamabad, which is keen on studying the scheme that at present covers BPL families in 18 states across India.

Through the World Bank, Indian and Pakistani officials recently had a video conference between Delhi and Islamabad to discuss the project. Pakistan’s health services has even expressed an interest in sending a delegation to India to study the scheme which covers 64 lakh people in India and is targeted at the unorganised sector. “Pakistan has shown a lot of interest,’’ sources said.

Though the Indian government has refused to resume the Indo-Pak composite dialogue process and restricted the bilateral dialogue to the issue of terror, Indian officials have also continued to stress that India bears no grudge against the people of Pakistan and that the effort is to get the Pakistani government to deliver on its anti-terror commitments.

Nevertheless, the discussion on the insurance scheme has been channeled through the World Bank which has also been closely involved in the scheme. But international interest in the health insurance programme is growing too. It’s not just Pakistan that is interested in the scheme. Bangladesh, sources said, is also keen on studying the health insurance programme, which provides biometric smart cards to BPL families so that they have access to healthcare across the country at both private and public hospitals. Dhaka already has pilot projects on micro insurance for the rural poor but is still interested in the Indian project, which is implemented on a large scale and is slowly being rolled out across the country.

At present, the scheme covers 18 states with many more to join in the coming months. The scheme also showcases India’s IT prowess, which continues to attract international attention, with ten separate software applications used to deliver the smart card and insurance cover to BPL families. The scheme is basically aimed at migrant workers who have the facility to access healthcare in any of the 18 states that has implemented the project.

According to government figures, around 94% of the total workforce is in the unorganised sector.

Around 1,500 private and public hospitals that have been empaneled to provide healthcare for the poor and 8 to 9 insurance companies are taking part in the scheme. The government’s plan right now is to extend the scheme for BPL workers and their families all over the country by 2012/13. “It’s the biggest rural IT scheme,’’ said an official. Since it started, the government has found that nearly 1.2 lakh people have used the smart cards to access health care.

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