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For Ayushman Bharat, Government looks to private hospitals

Indian Doctor standing with stethoscope on India flag background. National healthcare system concept, medical theme.The Government of India is turning to private hospitals to boost its flagship health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat. 

In September, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the scheme’s launch, it was announced that 18,073 hospitals had been empanelled to administer services under Ayushman Bharat, of which 53 percent belonged to the private sector. Hospitals were being empanelled under Ayushman Bharat at a rate of 51 each day. In the months since, the proportion of private hospitals involved in the scheme has increased to around sixty percent according to Indu Bhushan, chief executive officer of the National Health Authority which is responsible for implementing the scheme.

Now, the Government is intensifying efforts to involve the private sector by offering incentives to encourage their participation according to a Reuters report. The news comes against the backdrop of reports surfacing that private hospitals in some quarters of the country are steering clear of the scheme such as in Indore, where just nine out of 220 private healthcare facilities including hospitals and nursing homes are empanelled under Ayushman Bharat. 

“There are two major reasons,” said Dr Vinod Arora, president of the Indore Nursing Home Association, of the low uptake of Ayushman Bharat in the Madhya Pradesh city. ‘The rates offered under Ayushman Bharat scheme to hospital are very low and it would incur loss. There are some clauses of the scheme, which proved to be a hindrance for private hospitals like providing food to patients during treatment.” 

“We are hoping that [the] private sector would come,” said Bhushan. “If rates are not viable, [the] private sector will not come.” This came off of the back of concerns expressed by organisations including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and international consultancy firm Ernst & Young that private hospitals were recouping just forty to eighty percent of their costs in providing services under Ayushman Bharat. 

Bhushan spoke more broadly of issues affecting rollout of the scheme, including awareness. As previously reported by Health Issues India, low awareness among eligible beneficiaries has impeded rollout of Ayushman Bharat in parts of the country. Variations in awareness levels of eighty percent in Tamil Nadu to less than twenty percent in Bihar and Haryana were reported at the beginning of September. “In the next one year, the scheme should be quite well-known across the country,” Bhushan added. 

“There is a challenge of creating awareness and building the required infrastructure,” he noted. “We need to work more on awareness…give us time.”

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