Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to expand healthcare access for hundreds of millions of low-income citizens through what would essentially be a universal healthcare program, according to CNN.

The government’s proposal, referred to as Modicare, would cover hospital costs up to $7,800 for 100 million “poor and vulnerable” families, CNN reports, a 15-fold increase of what people are currently able to claim from the government.

The average annual income in India is $1,670, so the new plan would make medical visits and procedures that had once seemed unimaginable far more accessible for a huge number of citizens.

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"India cannot realize its demographic dividend without its citizens being healthy," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told CNN. "The government is steadily but surely progressing towards the goal of universal health coverage.

The plan is estimated to cost $780 billion, which would be roughly a third of the country’s $2.4 trillion economy, CNN notes.

While that may seem like a lot, healthcare expenditures throughout India are currently small compared to other countries. The average US citizen accounts for $9,403 in healthcare, compared to $267 in India, according to the World Bank.  

“This will be the world’s largest government-funded health-care program,” Jaitley told lawmakers when revealing the plan, according to the Washington Post.

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India is trying to increase health care investments in other ways as well. The country has a deficit of health facilities, hospitals, doctors and other medical professionals.

For instance, there are around 1 million doctors for more than 1.3 billion citizens. To make matters worse, just one in five of practicing doctors in rural areas were found to be qualified by the World Health Organization.

And nine out of 10 doctors work in private hospitals and practices, which are not covered by the government and are too expensive for the average citizen to visit. For low-income people who go to private hospitals out of desperation, the costs can burden them with staggering debt, according to Ward Health.  

The dearth of accessible, qualified professionals is leading to a crisis of health care, Ward Health Argues.

Heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are among the top killers in India, where the average life expectancy is 68, compared to 78 in the US. These are, ultimately, conditions that could be better managed with adequate healthcare, India Times reports.

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To improve health care access, the government also wants to spend $188 million to build 150,000 health centers in rural areas, the Post reports.

The new proposals could dramatically increase both access and quality of care, according to experts who spoke with the Post.

“This is a very proactive budget,” said Vinay Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association, who spoke with the Post. “Before this, hardly 5 percent of Indians were covered by health insurance. If you take into account private health care, it’s hardly 10 percent. Now we’re addressing 45 percent.”


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