The New York Times reported Thursday that India’s government unveiled a plan—still in its very early stages—to give 500 million of its poorest citizens free access to health care. It would, in part, give 100 million families up to 500,000 rupees (about $8,000) annually, enough to cover five heart surgeries, the Times reported.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reportedly told Parliament that the effort would be the largest government-funded health program in the world, covering more people than similar programs in other countries. The finance ministry has, however, only earmarked the equivalent of $314 million—and the program could run into the billions of dollars.
From the Times:
A prior plan announced by the [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi government in 2016 to provide 100,000 rupees of health coverage per family was never funded. But Dr. [Ajay] Bakshi said funding was more likely this time because the economy is stronger—and, more important, elections are looming. [...]
As part of the budget proposal, Mr. Jaitley said the government would levy a surtax that would raise about $1.7 billion a year specifically for health care programs. The government is also proposing a new tax on capital gains to capture some of the wealth being created as India’s stock market rises to new highs.
Deaths related to breathing disorders in New Delhi increased 40 percent between 2015 and 2016, due in part to farming practices, the burning of garbage, and factory pollutants. It’s often preventable illnesses related to low-paying industrial work that disproportionately impact the country’s poorest citizens.