Keeping up its relentless focus on pro-poor schemes in the run up to the 2014 polls, the Congress has decided to fast track an ambitious scheme to provide free medicines to any person at all government hospitals and health facilities.
Drugs available under this scheme will include antibiotics and those used by cancer, heart and diabetes patients. “It is very much on the cards. It is a major element of our approach towards universal healthcare,” health secretary K Desiraju told HT.
Under the scheme, the government will provide essential generic medicines free of cost to any person.
A generic drug is identical in composition to its branded counterparts but is sold at substantial discounts. If implemented, the scheme will trim the medical bill of patients by at least 60 per cent. It is likely to cost the Centre at least `30,000 crore over five years.
The states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan and Punjab already have similar schemes in place.
For its scheme, the Centre is believed to have taken inspiration especially from Tamil Nadu that procures generic medicines in bulk at 1/20th of the market rate and supplies them to government hospitals.
A senior Congress strategist said that “Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has been asked to prepare a note for the party brass before the scheme goes for Cabinet approval.”
The health ministry was allocated `16,000 crore under the National Health Mission during the 12th Plan outlay — a large part of this is earmarked for medicines.
The decision to fast track the free-medicines scheme comes close on the heels of the Centre’s plan to open 70 clinics including 20 super-specialty cancer hospitals across the country.
Last month, Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched twin schemes of the Kerala government that guarantee free medical care to all in government hospitals and free supply of generic medicines. It also comes months after the UPA pushed through two pro-poor legislations — the Food Security Act and the new Land Acquisition Act.