Meghalaya’s Megha Health Insurance Scheme Is lack of focus on details going to doom this laudable effort?

Meghalaya’s Megha Health Insurance Scheme Is lack of focus on details going to doom this laudable effort?

On the 15th of December 2012, Meghalaya entered the pages of history in the country through the launch of the ‘Megha Health Insurance Scheme’ (MHIS). The MHIS is the only health insurance scheme in the country to provide health insurance coverage to all the people of a State barring government employees.

The MHIS which is based on the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RBSY) scheme of the Central Government is the brainchild of the incumbent Chief Minister of Meghalaya Dr. Mukul Sangma who said that the idea for the scheme came to him when he was in the United States of America where his spouse suddenly had to be hospitalized. Dr. Sangma said that he was dreading the thought of having to run from pillar to post in a foreign country to arrange for his wife’s medical needs and that he was pleasantly surprised to find out that in the United States, hospitals prioritise patient care before payment thereby saving a lot of lives. Dr. Sangma rued the fact that his is not the case in India where the policies of most hospitals is to prioritise the financial standing of the patient before medical care is provided to them. Dr. Sangma says that this led him to start thinking of a system whereby the patients need not worry about medical expenses even before treatment is administered.

The RSBY after which the MHIS is crafted is a Central Government Scheme under which all BPL families in the country are given free medical care. However, while attending the function to officially launch this scheme way back in  December last year, this scribe could not help but hear a lot of angawadi workers and officials besides common people express their hope that the MHIS does not meet the same fate as the RSBY. Seemingly, the RSBY is non – functional in Meghalaya and the beneficiaries of the scheme face a lot of problems in trying to avail of its provisions.

Four months after this auspicious day, the state of Meghalaya is going all out to register its citizens under this scheme through the organising of registration camps in the various localities of Shillong. As people stream to these recruitment camps, it is however sad to notice that most of them have no inkling of the details of the scheme. All they know is that medical insurance is being provided to them through the MHIS. In this regard, it is this scribe’s opinion that more awareness about the scheme should have been generated by the government to inform the people that upon registration for which the beneficiary will have to pay a sum of Rs 31, the beneficiaries of the scheme are provided with a registration card which can be produced at the time of treatment. This card ensures that the beneficiary will get health insurance for medical treatment at selected hospitals in the city to the tune of Rs 1,60,000. Most people were also unaware that government employees are not eligible for coverage under the scheme.

It may be noted that in a surprising move thereby leading many to think of the MHIS as an election gimmick, the launch of the scheme was conducted on the 15th of December 2013, well before it was ready for launch throughout the State. On the day of the launching of the scheme, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya had handed out MHIS cards to ‘selected beneficiaries’ to mark the ‘auspicious occasion’. Now, the pertinent question here is – why not wait for the scheme to be ready for all the masses instead of handing out these cards to these ‘selected beneficiaries’? Whatever may be the reason for this, the government now, four months down the line is going all out to register the beneficiaries under the scheme; or is it? Apart from the lack of information disseminated to the public, it was shocking to witness that at one registration camp that was organized at the Jaiaw Laitdom locality of Shillong, the registration officials themselves were often at their wits ends. In one instance, an official did not even know how many members of a family are eligible for inclusion under the scheme and had to make frantic phone calls to her superiors to find out. This leads me to question whether these officials were even briefed about the details of the scheme.

People attending the launch of the Megha Health Insurance Scheme in DecemberIt is a disturbing trait that one now sees in Meghalaya. It is of no doubt that under the leadership of Dr. Mukul Sangma, the present Meghalaya government is initiating a lot of schemes and interventions for the uplift of the State and its people. However, there is a palpable disconnect in this regard. While these schemes and initiatives are in themselves commendable, there is a visible need for the government to ensure that the beneficiaries of these schemes are aware of their availability and the benefits that can be derived from them. It goes without saying that a scheme in itself, with the actual beneficiaries aloof and uninvolved is akin to placing the cart before the proverbial horse. While a large section of the society lauds the initiatives and interventions of the present government under Dr. Mukul Sangma, they are apprehensive of whether these initiatives and interventions will actually reach the desired goal for want of this vital step that is often being overlooked.

It may be noted here that Dr. Sangma, in his capacity of Chief Minister of Meghalaya has recently met with a number of delegates and officials from other countries such as Bangladesh, the Czech Republic, Germany, Myanmar and Thailand to name a few who have expressed a lot of eagerness to enter into mutually beneficial endeavours which will be based in Meghalaya. In such a scenario, Meghalaya stands to gain a lot and is poised for unbridled development on a number of fronts such as power generation, agriculture, trade and commerce which will in turn generate the much needed employment of the educated unemployed youth besides bridging the urban – rural divide which will bode well for the socio – economic standing of the people of the State. However, the trend that I had talked about earlier – namely that of placing the horse before the proverbial cart is an issue that needs to be seriously taken into consideration. We should be mindful that we do not destroy all that has been achieved so far and what can be achieved in the near future for want of a little spade work.

Hubert Nongkhlaw