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Abhijit Banerjee hails Ayushman Bharat

Abhijit Banerjee.
Abhijit Banerjee (centre). Image credit: Financial Times [CC BY 2.0 (]
Abhijit Banerjee, the joint recipient of the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, has endorsed Ayushman Bharat, the Centre’s flagship health insurance scheme. 

The Indian-born American economist, who shared the prize with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for their work in reducing poverty, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field of research,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote of the laureates. 

This came in spite of his sometimes contentious relationship with some members of the BJP. Union Minister of Commerce and Industry and Railways Piyush Goyal notably criticised Banerjee’s “thinking” as “totally left leaning” and said that “the people of India totally rejected his thinking” citing his work with the Indian National Congress on formulating a poverty alleviation scheme, the Nyuntam Aay Yojana. “In terms of being a professional, I want to be professional with everyone,” Goyal countered. “I am not partisan in my economic thinking.” 

Banerjee himself has criticised certain economic policies of the Modi administration such as demonetisation and asserted “you have to take it seriously that the economy is in crisis.” Despite this, an amicable meeting was reportedly shared between Banerjee and the Prime Minister. “Excellent meeting with Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee,” Modi tweeted. “His passion towards human empowerment is clearly visible. We had a healthy and extensive interaction on various subjects. India is proud of his accomplishments. Wishing him the very best for his future endeavours.” 

While Banerjee has criticised certain policies of the Modi government, Ayushman Bharat is not one of them. “I think it’s very much needed,” Banerjee said at a conference. “It does something very important, like dealing with the fact that healthcare expenses wipe entire families out. It does something very important there. I think it is something that we need. We need to find ways so that families don’t lose all their assets when somebody in the family gets sick. So I think it solves a very important gap in our economic structure.” 

Out-of-pocket spending is a major issue in India, driving millions into poverty. Ayushman Bharat seeks to address this by offering cashless cover of Rs 5 lakh per family per year to families below the poverty line. In its first year, 47 lakh beneficiaries reportedly availed treatment under the scheme, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said in September. 

More recently, the Minister said that the scheme “is growing by leaps and bounds. In just over one year, under [Ayushman Bharat] more than fifty lakh treatments have been availed by beneficiaries across the country. The successful implementation of this scheme will help us take forward Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s vision of ‘Antyodaya’- the upliftment of the last man.”

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