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India just launched the world's largest healthcare plan. Will it work?

A hundred million Indians fall into medical poverty every year. This is Modi’s plan to stop it.

by Angad Singh
Sep 30 2018, 1:46pm

Indians currently pay their medical bills out-of-pocket, which forces around 100 million people to fall into medical poverty each year. But Prime Minister Narenda Modi is confident that “Modicare” — a free government healthcare plan — will fix that.

On average, 64 percent of medical costs in India are paid out of pocket — which can prove to be catastrophic for many in a country where the average annual income is just under $2,000. So in late September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India rolled out a free government healthcare plan that promises to cover about half a billion people. It’s being called ‘Modicare’

Modicare aims to tackle the root of that problem by providing $7,500 in free coverage a year to the poorest 100 million families in the country, or about 40 percent of the population. Officials have estimated a $1.7 billion price tag for the world’s largest healthcare plan. But those calculations could be wildly off the mark if public health plans from the past serve as any indicator.

India had at least 48 different government-funded health insurance programs at national and state levels prior to Modicare. Those plans, however, haven’t been considered financially viable for the last four years: The government spent $122 for every $100 officials budgeted in 2017.

Beyond the financial issues, there’s an accessibility problem that Modi also needs to fix.

Currently, two-thirds of Indians live in rural areas where a quarter of primary care positions, and about 65 percent of specialist positions, are vacant. To address that, Modicare will open 150,000 wellness centers across the country and upgrade district hospitals into government medical colleges so that each state has at least one such facility for more specialized procedures.

But opening up new facilities won’t fix the problem on its own. It’s hard to attract highly educated doctors, who generally prefer urban centers, to fill vacancies in India’s underdeveloped countryside.

This segment originally aired September 20, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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