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The new Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, who assumed office on Tuesday afternoon, promised that the government would work to provide 'health insurance coverage for all' through a national insurance policy for health. "The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana of the ministry of labour is working fine in some states but its reach is limited to BPL (below poverty line) families. I plan to rope in all economic groups and make the health ministry a sort of regulatory body for oversight on existing microhealth insurance programme in the villages and cities of India," said Vardhan, adding that the new government can learn a lot from micro-health insurance instruments developed by NGOs, selfhelp groups and small private entities.

The contours of the new health policy for all would be drawn after broad consultation with national and international experts. According to an estimate of consultancy firm PwC, less than 15% of the Indian population is covered under some form of health insurance, including government-supported schemes. Only about 2.2% of the population is covered under private health insurance, of which rural health insurance penetration is less than 10%. Although insurance is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15% till 2015, at the current rate of growth, only half the country's population would have health insurance coverage by 2033.

​Health Cover For All, Says Harsh Vardhan The contours of the new health policy for all would be drawn after broad consultation with national and international experts.

"I am not in favour of taxpayer's money being used to push a one-size fits all health policy. From this morning itself, I have started contacting public health practitioners on the roadmap to ensure that available resources will be utilized more optimally," he said. Immediately after assuming office, Vardhan took an hour-long meeting with senior officials at the ministry to get a status report from them. The health minister said focus would be on operating the health ministry with full transparency, and to do that, he would move fast to put in place e-governgovernance systems in all government-to-citizens and government-to-business interfaces under the ministry at all its offices throughout the country.

"Accountability standards will be fixed at the highest level and corruption will be checked at source with transparent systems." He expressed concern at the way government-run programmes such as Reproductive and Child health Project, National TB Control Programme and National Disease Control Programme are under funded. "The result is that despite reducing its maternal mortality rate, India is way short of achieving its millennium development goal at 103 per 1, 00,000 live births. Even Bangladesh is doing better than India" he said, adding that the new government would devise ways to revitalize these programmes.

Vardhan said that prime minister Narendra Modi believes that 'health should be better than wealth', and the country should expect good, clean hospitals, zero-corruption and bold initiatives in the health sector from the new government. Despite former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 2012 promise of a free drug distribution scheme on the occasion of independence day and 'high powered' panels on making 'universal healthcare' a reality in India, UPA's 'health for all' plan was a complete nonstarter. Out-of-pocket expenditure on health in India, at over 70%, is one of the highest globally and is responsible for pushing hundreds of millions into poverty every year.

28 May 2014
New Delhi, India

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