At a time, when the Modi government’s universal health cover scheme is receiving appreciation from many quarters (as also documented in our article Ayushman Bharat: Why it Attracts International Attention) for providing huge relief to the economically vulnerable sections of society, the detractors, it seems, are busy coming up with new theories to run down the scheme. One such logically flawed narrative has been put forward by Jean Drèze, an economist who served in Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council in the previous UPA era.
In his article published in ‘The Wire’ titled Ayushman Bharat Trivialises India’s Quest for Universal Health Care he tries to make a case of lack of financial support to the Ayushman Bharat scheme. His contention, mainly about the insurance cover the government has been offering under Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), actually proves how the ‘economist’ is trivialising the whole issue, neglecting the basic mechanism of insurance.
100% - That’s Not an Increase as per ‘Economist’ Jean Drèze!
At the very beginning of his article, Jean Drèze charges Prime Minister Modi for deception. He then begins to quote figures to build his argument. He writes,
“The budget allocation for PMJAY in 2018-19 is just Rs 2,000 crore.
That is not much more than the previous year’s budget allocation
of Rs 1,000 crore for Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY)”
Wait! Doubling the previous allocation amount is nothing for this ‘economist’? Yes. Without offering any logic he concludes, “there is virtually no new money this year for PMJAY.”
Considering the outlandishness of his premise, one can’t expect him to explain the difference between earlier RSBY and PMJAY in terms of their reach and scale. Here are some obvious differences between the two, which Jean Drèze has failed to notice:
- The Per family per year coverage under RSBY was Rs 30,000 whereas under PMJAY it is as high as Rs 5 lakh.
- Under RSBY 3.6 crore families were covered, whereas PMJAY covers 10 crore families.
Perhaps for ‘economist’ Jean Drèze, increase of about 1500% in terms of the amount of coverage and about 175% in terms of the families to be covered also means nothing.
‘Economist’ Jean Drèze’s Bizarre Understanding of Insurance!
Jean Drèze does recognise the fact that allocation for PMJAY is going to increase in the future as he writes,
“According to recent media reports, NITI Aayog experts
anticipate the annual PMJAY budget to rise to Rs 10,000 crore
or so in the next few years, or something in that range.”
Still arguing that it is insufficient, this economist does odd math to convince the readers of his argument. He writes,
“But Rs 10,000 crore (more than five times the current
PMJAY budget) is still chickenfeed for the purpose of providing
health insurance to 10 crore families. It comes to Rs 1,000 per family,
or Rs 200 per person. For the whole year. How would you feel
if you were told you that your budget for health care this year is Rs 200?”
You need not be an ‘economist’ to understand the bizarreness of the above argument. It is his assumption that all the 10 crores families are going to fall sick in the same year to claim the insurance and each person would get a mere Rs 200! Because only in such scenario Jean Drèze’s Rs 200 per person theory proves right. But, it is common-sense that insurance does not work like that. It is surprising that Jean Drèze as an ‘economist’ argues that the government is spending only Rs 200 per person for healthcare, using this strange calculation.
Thus, it is not the case of Ayushman Bharat trivialising universal health care as alleged by the writer. If anything, it seems Jean Drèze himself is trivialising his credentials as an ‘economist’ by presenting such dubious arguments.
To understand the complete picture on the transformation taking place in the health sector, read our previous articles.