After the overwhelming success of its job cards scheme, which covered about 20 million households in villages, the UPA government is ready with yet another programme, health insurance for poor, and a set of smart cards.
The ruling coalition, which survived the confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday, is aiming to cover 60 million households (or about 300 million people) across the country in the next five years under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, which it announced last year.
Already, 300-odd patients insured under the scheme have availed of this facility in various listed hospitals in Delhi and Haryana.
Under the scheme, smart cards are distributed to below poverty line families that enable beneficiaries and their family members to access healthcare worth Rs 30,000 a year from listed public and private hospitals at an yearly premium of Rs 30.
The actual premium per card is Rs 662, paid by the Union labour ministry and the state governments. The ministry pays 75 per cent of the cost.
While Assam and Tripura have already rolled out the scheme, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kerala and West Bengal are ready to issue the smart cards in a month. In August, people in Bihar and Jharkhand and 15 districts of Uttar Pradesh would also start getting the cards.
Last week, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurated the distribution of the cards in one of the city's most backward areas, Mongolpuri.
Mahender Singh, who works at a construction site in Delhi, was among the 200 people who received the cards from the chief minister. He said though he did not recognise any of the hospitals on the list, he was glad there were some nursing homes where he could take his ailing mother for treatment.
According to Anil Swarup, director general (labour welfare), ministry of labour, the market-linked model is a win-win for the patient, the participating hospitals, the insurance companies as well as the companies making the smart cards.
The companies that win the bids get a premium of Rs 662 per smart card. The business model behind the programme obliges the insurance companies to distribute as many smart cards as possible as it is these cards that determine their income, says Swarup.
So far, insurance companies like Oriental Insurance, National Insurance, United India Insurance, ICICI Lombard, New India Assurance and Cholamandalam MS General Insurance have accepted the deal in 12 states.
Others are waiting for more states to invite the bids.
"The smart card provider we have hired is currently taking thumb impressions in 50 different locations in Delhi. We have already issued 29,000 cards," said a deputy general manager of Oriental Insurance Company, Virendra Kumar, who is handling the scheme in Delhi and Bihar. Of these, 240 people have already claimed benefits in various Delhi hospitals.
The smart card has been designed keeping the migrants in mind, and hence it is portable, Swarup says. So if a card holder from Bihar comes to Delhi for a few months and falls ill, he can use the card in any of the listed hospitals in the national capital, he adds.
Both Sawrup and Kumar say the cards cannot be manipulated. Each time a patient comes to a listed hospital, his/her thumb impression is recorded in the reading system and his entry is automatically registered, explains Kumar.
"In Delhi, a total of 440,000 persons have to be covered. Our job is assumption of risk that so many people would not fall ill. So, we should make profit," he says.