Almost 70,000 people leave military service every year in India, with health needs to be met. To help with the cost of treatment, the government launched the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) in 2003 to expand access to healthcare for veterans and their families. But budgetary issues mean beneficiaries are missing out.
This year’s interim Union Budget limited the amount of money available to run the scheme to 33 percent of its total yearly allocation, to last implementation until a Union Budget is passed. Because of monetary obligations the ECHS has to meet such as outstanding payments, the cash flow for resources dispensed through the scheme such as medicines is truncated. To cover the amount of medicines needed, Rs 200 crore is required according to reports covering a number of conditions.
The medicines are dispensed through polyclinics after being supplied by military hospitals, each with monthly expenses of between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh according to Ethealthworld.com. Expenditures mean that, as one official says, “every year, the ECHS is short of about Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 crore for its overall requirements, including committed liabilities, payment of bills of empanelled hospitals and medicines.” With an interrupted cash flow for procurement this year, the official says “there is a shortage of medicines, including those for heart [disease] and cancer patients.”
The result is that many veterans are being left in the lurch, unable to avail life-saving medicines unless they pay which could prove costly. Five million veterans and their dependants are said to rely on the scheme for their healthcare needs and while reimbursements are being proposed for those who are forced to bear costs out-of-pocket, there is a need to ensure such impasses are avoided in future.