Bengal aims health cards for all before poll
The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to enhance the capacity of printing Swasthya Sathi cards to cover all people in Bengal under the state-sponsored health insurance scheme ahead of the Assembly polls and also to empanel more healthcare facilities in rural districts to ensure that the benefits are available even in remote areas.
The move, sources said, has been initiated considering people’s interest in registering for the scheme. So far, more than 1.5 crore people have registered for various government services at the camps set up under the Duare Sarkar programme and out of them, 70 per cent want their names to be included in the Swasthya Sathi scheme.
“Right now, we have the capacity to print 1 lakh cards every day. We are trying to enhance the capacity to 1.25 lakh a day so that all applicants can get the cards in the next two months. For this, we will hire more printing agencies,” said a senior state official.
According to the sources, the state has set a target of bringing 2.5 crore people — at present outside the purview of the scheme that gives a coverage of Rs 5 lakh to each family — as 7.5 crore people are already registered under the scheme.
“According to the plan, the state government needs to print about 50 lakh cards considering a family consists of five persons on an average. So, with the existing printing capacity, we could have completed printing of all the cards within two months. But we are trying to enhance the capacity as many people are applying after getting separated from the family or seeking replacement of their old cards,” said another official.
The sources said the ruling establishment was desperate to hand over the Swasthya Sathi cards to all the beneficiaries ahead of the polls as Trinamul Congress leaders consider the scheme as an answer to the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme.
“The BJP is alleging we did not allow the central scheme in Bengal. We want to counter the allegation with the Swasthya Sathi scheme, where the beneficiaries don’t have to pay any premium but would get the same facilities offered by the central scheme. For this, we have to ensure that all beneficiaries get the cards ahead of polls,” said a minister.
The state government was not only providing the cards to the beneficiaries but also trying to ensure a better service to the beneficiaries across the state.
“We will try to bring all private nursing homes and healthcare establishments under the scheme so that people in the remote corners also get the benefit of getting treated at private hospitals. For this, the district magistrates would soon hold meetings with the private healthcare establishments to persuade them to get empanelled under the scheme,” said a source.
If small nursing homes and private healthcare facilities in the districts get empanelled, it would help the state in many ways. First, this will ease the pressure on the government hospitals. Second, the small nursing homes would be able to enhance their infrastructure as they would get more patients. Third, lesser number of patients would be referred to Calcutta, which would result in decongestion of healthcare services in the city.
“If things go as planned, the state’s overall healthcare facilities would be improved gradually. The state already gives free treatment at all state-run hospitals. Now, the new plan would make treatment of majority ailments free in private hospitals too,” said a Trinamul insider.
A section of the officials, however, said if the state wanted to bring more private hospitals under the scheme, the government has to review its existing rates.
“For example, the state government-approved rate
for excision of lumps from chest — a surgery to get rid of lumps from chest — is Rs 10,000. But only a handful of private hospitals would accept the rate while majority charge for surgery between Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh,” said a source.