Free healthcare for the poor | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 25, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:56 AM, March 25, 2016

Free healthcare for the poor

One lakh brought under pilot project; scheme to cover all in phases by 2032

The government yesterday formally launched the country's first-ever health protection scheme to ensure healthcare for the poor.

Under the pilot project titled Shasthyo Suroksha Karmashuchi (SSK), the government will provide health cards to one lakh extreme poor households in Kalihati, Madhupur and Ghatail upazilas of Tangail.

With the out-of-pocket health expenses in Bangladesh standing at 63 percent, the SSK aims to protect the poor from catastrophic consequences of diseases, health ministry officials said.

Around 64 lakh people in the country get poorer every year due to high medical costs, according to a 2010 research by the icddr,b.

Health Minister Mohammed Nasim inaugurated the SSK yesterday by distributing health cards among some poor households in Kalihati.

"We are implementing the new initiative so that the poor are not deprived of healthcare services for any illness," he said at the inaugural programme.

"The number of elderly people is increasing, complicated diseases are emerging and consequently, treatment costs are rising. Addressing this issue is one of the main objectives of the SSK," the minister elaborated.

The SSK, which was scheduled to be launched in mid-2014, began its journey in January this year.

One lakh households below the poverty line, with less than $1.9 daily income, have been registered under the pilot project, and each household will get one health card.

The cardholders and their family members can avail free-of-cost healthcare for 50 diseases -- including fever, cold, cough, fractured bones, appendicitis, hernia and complicated heart, kidney and gallbladder ailments -- at the upazila- and district-level public hospitals, according to a health ministry statement.

The government will pay Tk 1,000 as the annual premium for each household that can avail healthcare services costing up to Tk 50,000 per year.

The fund for the pilot scheme would come from the Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme (HPNSDP), jointly financed by the government and development partners.

Green Delta Insurance Company Ltd will act as the insurer in the SSK and a cell at the health ministry's Health Economics Unit will supervise it.

The government has already set the costs and treatment protocols of the diseases, the statement said.

According to the "Health Care Finance Strategy (HCFS) 2012-2032", the government plans to bring all citizens under the health insurance coverage by 2032. As part of the plan, those living below the poverty line will be provided the health cards first.

Some four crore people in Bangladesh live below the poverty line, according to the Planning Commission.

Based on the experience from the pilot project in Tangail, the SSK's coverage will gradually be expanded among different economic groups across the country. Arrangements for premiums for various professional or economic groups would be decided later, according to the HCFS.

As per the strategy, the health ministry aims to raise the health budget to 15 percent of the national budget by 2032, from less than 5 percent now.

The increased expenses will be covered by taxes from the tobacco business, premiums from the insured people, foreign aid, and the government's own fund, Director General (DG) Ashadul Islam of the Health Economics Unit told The Daily Star.

Dr Abdur Razzaque MP; Health Secretary Syed Monjurul Islam; Dr Deen Mohammad Noorul Huq, DG of the Directorate General of Health Services; and Waheed Hossain, DG of the Department of Family Planning, were present at the SSK inaugural programme.

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