Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday rejected Indian Medical Association’s demand to remove government hospitals from the purview of the central government’s Ayushman Bharat health insurance programme, PTI reported. The minister said the statement of the doctors’ body lacked “any basis or vision”.

On Sunday, the medical association had called on the government to remove state-run hospitals from the scheme, pointing out that their services are already free. If the government wants to fund public health establishments, it should do it directly, the doctors’ body added. The statement came a day ahead of a two-day event to commemorate the anniversary of the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana, or PMJAY, scheme that covers hospitalisation for up to Rs 5 lakh per year for about 50 crore people.

Vardhan said many of the scheme’s beneficiaries live in far-flung villages and Adivasi areas where there are no private hospitals. “They need to have access to quality healthcare whether provided by the government or the private sector,” the minister added. “It is the government hospitals which provide healthcare services in the remotest areas of the country which have no private hospitals. Even the new medical colleges will be set up in the aspirational districts.”

Vardhan said the Indian Medical Association’s idea “is absolutely absurd and needs to be rejected”.

On Sunday, the association’s National President Shantanu Sen had asked the government why the scheme should be funded “through insurance companies by paying 15% to them?”.

Sen said keeping public hospitals in the scheme was not benefitting people. The association alleged that the insurance model of providing healthcare facilities was a failure, and voiced concerns about the existing structure and mode of implementation of Ayushman Bharat.

Last year, more than 46 lakh people were provided cashless treatments under the scheme, with more than half of the figure coming from private hospitals. These hospitals get reimbursed at specific rates set by the National Health Authority – the government agency that runs the scheme. The insurance scheme covers nearly 1,550 treatment packages and includes diagnostic costs up to three days prior to hospitalisation and medicines up to 15 days after being hospitalised.

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