The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Insured health hope on hospital debut

Calcutta, Nov. 20: A comprehensive health insurance scheme for the masses is absolutely critical to reach the benefits of modern medicine to all and the cover can only be provided in alliance with the private sector, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said today.

He was speaking at the ceremonial inauguration of the Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals on EM Bypass by Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The minister, in the midst of a horror run in office, referred to the Karnataka model where 2.8 million farmers have access to treatment against payment of Rs 6 a month.

Quick to pick up the cue, Apollo Hospitals Group chairman Prathap C. Reddy promised the health minister that the group, with a turnover of $100 million, would be “glad” to work towards such an insurance programme with the state government. “Illness is never a planned event, and in India, where unlike in the West, most patients are self-paid, it is all the more difficult to bear the cost of treatment. The need of the hour is to find an intermediary funding mechanism,” he said.

Reddy, who has introduced medical insurance cover for all in his native village of Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh against a daily premium of Re 1 per person, said he was keen to replicate “something similar” in Bengal. Cardiac surgeon Devi Shetty’s Asia Heart Foundation had earlier expressed the desire to work out a mass health insurance scheme in Bengal.

Mishra stressed on the need to create more medical and paramedical manpower and welcomed Apollo Hospitals’ assurance to “contribute towards augmenting medical education and research in the state”. He hoped Asia’s largest integrated healthcare services provider would also “take a leading role in public-private partnerships” in Bengal.

Apollo has “given us a brand name that does India proud”, said Shekhawat, expressing hope that the city hospital would serve “as a model of excellence”. Governor Viren J. Shah called for a more “sensitive mindset” among health employees. “Callous and careless” handling of patients often spell medical disaster in the state, said Shah. “I hope Apollo Gleneagles will consider the financial constraints of the patients, too,” he added.

Calling the private sector to fill in the blanks left by the public healthcare delivery system, city mayor Subrata Mukherjee appealed to the vice-president to impress upon the Centre the need to set up two “AIIMS-like institutes” in Calcutta. “The services rendered by the government hospitals have been found wanting over the past few years. In view of the emerging needs, the private sector has to play a more active role,” said Mukherjee.

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