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INDIAN (E)

Govt to roll out health cover scheme from next fiscal: FM Arun Jaitley

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NEW DELHI: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday said the world’s biggest health cover plan announced in the Budget will be cashless and not a reimbursement scheme, and promised more funds if required depending on the rollout later next financial year.

The National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) touted as ModiCare envisaged to provide medical cover of up to Rs 5 lakh to over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, constituting 40 per cent of total population.

“It takes care of hospitalisation, the secondary and tertiary care. Obviously, it will involve various state hospitals and selected private hospitals. It can be on trust model, it can be on insurance model. It’s not on reimbursement model because too many complaints come on the reimbursement model,” he said here.

The model is now being worked out between NITI Aayog and Health Ministry, he said adding the date of implementation would be next financial year and sometime in the course of the year it will be worked out.

If assuming the model to be insurance led, the premium shrink with the increase in number of policy holders, he said at an event organised by Open magazine.

The scheme although appreciated by experts also raises apprehension about its implementation and the initial corpus of just Rs 2,000 crore.

Assuring that the scheme will be entirely state funded, Jaitley said initial funds of Rs 2,000 crore has been allocated and whatever funds required, as the scheme rolls over, would be made available.

“In the coming year, I see more comfortable situation as far as revenues are concerned because the graphs as far as direct tax is concerned would move very fast,” he said.

Following demonetisation and implementation of Goods and Services Tax, the number of direct tax assesses have gone up … once anti-evasion measures, I do expect a little bump up in the GST collection also. I don’t see revenue going to be a major challenge in that,” he said.

Yesterday, Jaitley in the Budget speech said, “We are all aware that lakhs of families in our country have to borrow or sell assets to receive indoor treatment in hospitals. Government is seriously concerned about such impoverishment of poor and vulnerable families. Present RSBY provide annual coverage of only Rs 30,000 to poor families.”

Several state governments have also implemented supplemented health protection schemes providing varying coverage, he had said in the Lok Sabha.

The finance minister also advocated that the central and the state government can pool in resources for health care to achieve efficiency.

He also emphasised on having better hospitals in rural areas even though Tier I and Tier II cities have good hospitals.

Setting up of hospitals in various districts is the state subject under the federal structure, he added.



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Budget 2018 boost for healthcare: Lessons for 'Modicare' from Obamacare

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NEW DELHI: People on social media had begun to call the healthcare insurance plan announced yesterday in the Budget ‘Modicare’ – on the lines of ‘Obamacare’ – long before the finance minister did, but when Arun Jaitley on Doordarshan referred it to as ‘Modicare’, he made sure that’s what it would come to be called henceforth.

“I don’t know if ‘Obamacare’ was successful or not, but people will one day say ‘Modicare’ has been successful,” said Jaitley to Doordarshan News in an interview, after presenting the Union Budget 2018.

The Union finance minister was probably being disingenuous when he said he didn’t know about the fate of Obamacare, which was praised and reviled in equal measure. Still, Obama’s now-discontinued legacy was indeed a step in the direction of universal healthcare, much like this government’s ambition for the “world’s largest government funded health care programme”

Here’s a look at Jaitley’s top proposals – short of functioning detail – and how they compare to Obamacare:

‘Healthcare for all’

The National Health Protection Scheme, dubbed not ‘Modicare’ but ‘NaMocare’ by BJP president Amit Shah, will be a government-funded health care programme. It’s aimed at providing health insurance cover of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year to 10 crore poor families. That accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the country’s population. This scheme addresses secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation and covers both “prevention and health promotion”, Jaitley said.

Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, was enacted in 2010 to ensure that all Americans – the well-off as well as middle and low income families – have access to affordable health insurance. It offered consumers discounts – which they called ‘tax credits’ – on government-sponsored health insurance plans, albeit with certain caveats. It also expanded the Medicaid assistance program to include more people who could not afford to pay for health care.

Follow the money

Keeping the new healthcare scheme in mind, this year’s total budgetary allocation to the Health Ministry is Rs 52,800 crore, an 11.5 per cent rise over the Rs 47,353 crore allocated last fiscal.

But the National Health Mission – the flagship scheme – has actually seen a decrease in allocation. While Rs 30801.56 crore was spent on NHM in 2017-18, this year’s allocation is Rs 30129.61 crore.

The government has committed Rs 2,000 crore to the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna through which money for the National Health Protection Scheme will be initially routed. In addition, an allocation of Rs 9,752.82 crore has been made to the National Rural Health Mission. The flexible pool for non-communicable diseases, injury and trauma has been granted Rs 1,004.67 crore.

One of the main reasons Obamacare was controversial was the ‘Individual Mandate’, a provision that allowed the government to raise funds by penalising people who didn’t have health insurance. Other modes of revenue generation for the healthcare policy included cuts in government funding, increasing taxes on high-income individuals and a variety of annual fees and surcharges.

As for finance minister Jaitley, he’s confident the government will be able to support the insurance scheme. For one, he says reintroduction of long term capital gains tax will being in revenue for it.

On-the-ground reality

‘Modicare’ plans to cover 50 crore beneficiaries in its push for Universal Health Coverage. As part of the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ programme, Rs 1,200 crore has been allocated for the National Health Policy, under which 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres will bring health care system closer to the homes of people.

A total of 24 new government medical colleges have also been announced, with a view to fulfill the government’s vision of “swasth Bharat, samriddha Bharat” (healthy India, prosperous India).

Still, a former consultant to Union health minister Dr Sunil Nandraj pointed out to TOI that the Rs 2,000 crore.allocation for the insurance scheme is just not enough.

“This is far from adequate to cover the health premium for 10 crore families,” he said. Dr Abhay Shukla, national convener of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, said, “If the allocation is meant for 50 crore people, then the premium works out to Rs 40 for each.”

Under Obamacare, it was mandatory for health care plans to cover 10 basic categories of medical services, including trips to the hospital, prescription drugs, and mental health care. It incentivized buying health insurance for low or middle income individuals by providing ‘health insurance subsidies’. It is estimated that around 23 million Americans gained health insurance coverage through Obamacare.

But perhaps the biggest USP of Obamacare was that insurance companies could not turn down, or overcharge, people with pre-existing medical conditions.

‘Overblown expectations’, says Opposition

No sooner was ‘Modicare’ announced that opposition parties began picking holes in the government’s budgetary promise, with Congress equating it to a typical “jumla”, or “hollow promise”, by PM Modi.

“The promise of Rs 5 lakh per family for secondary and tertiary healthcare is a big ‘jumla’. The target group is 10 crore families. There is, as yet, no scheme,” said Congress leader P Chidambaram.

The former finance minister said that assuming each family will avail Rs 50,000, the amount required per year will be Rs 5 lakh crore, which far exceeds the total budgetary allocation to the Health Ministry for the next fiscal year.

Obamacare, too, had faced much opprobrium, with one Republican lawmaker memorably calling it “the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed.” The GOP made more than 60 unsuccessful attempts to defeat it in Congress, stemming from its distaste for the policy due to ideological, economic and historical reasons.

During his electoral campaign, US President Donald Trump vowed to repeal Obamacare, and partially achieved this goal when the US Senate scrapped the individual mandate, as part of a sweeping tax reform bill last December.



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INDIAN (E)

SC agrees to hear CPM plea challenging introduction of electoral bond

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| Updated: Feb 2, 2018, 12:25 IST

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today agreed to hear plea of CPM challenging Centre’s decision to introduce electoral bond in elections, issues notice to Centre.

Earlier, CPM had approached the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s decision to introduce electoral bonds arguing that the move “undermined democracy” and it would “lead to greater political corruption”.

Claiming that the scheme would clean up political funding, the NDA government had announced electoral bonds in the previous budget. It met with stiff resistance from opposition parties and initial reservations from the Election Commission.

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    BSF foils infiltration bid along International Border in Samba

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    | Feb 2, 2018, 11:19 IST
    Representative ImageRepresentative Image

    JAMMU: BSF troops foiled an infiltration bid along the International Border (IB) in Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said on Friday.

    “Suspicious movement was seen close to the International Border in Samba sector late last night”, a BSF officer said today.

    Alert BSF troops fired upon the infiltrators forcing them to return, he said, adding that no more movement was not seen later.

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    As 17 parties meet, Sonia urges Opposition to bury differences

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    NEW DELHI: With political rivalries in states hampering “secular” unity at the Centre, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has urged like-minded parties to overcome regional differences and join hands against BJP at the Centre.

    The plea from the Congress leader provided fodder for detailed discussions among opposition parties on the need for unity, a critical issue given the resurfacing of friction in the anti-Hindutva camp in recent weeks.

    The opposition parties met on Thursday amid comments from Trinamool Congress that party chief Mamata Banerjee should lead the opposition. Also, when NCP chief Sharad Pawar called a consultation of the opposition earlier this week, Congress made it plain that Sonia Gandhi is still the head of the grouping.

    In the backdrop of fears that the anti-BJP bloc may unravel, Congress chose to address the reality of competitive politics within the “secular” camp. Sonia said the threat of “ideology of hate” (highlighting incidents of riots) and “attack on the Constitution” cannot be ignored.

    The twin issues serve as glue in the opposition bloc, with “hate” appealing to “secular vote-base” and “threat to the Constitution” morphing into a political appeal to SCs and STs. The 17 parties in attendance agreed on the need to stay focused on the “threats”.

    The participants included NCP’s Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, JMM’s Sanjeev Kumar, RJD’s J P Yadav and Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav besides leaders of other parties.

    Another uplifting factor for the beleaguered opposition, which could bond them better, seems to be the gains being made against BJP. After a good Congress show in Gujarat polls, the party sweep of three byelections in Rajasthan on Thursday buoyed the mood in the meeting.



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    India key player in US's South Asia strategy: Pentagon

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    “Our relationship with India is multifaceted. India is helping with respect to the South Asian Strategy. They’ve provided a tremendous amount of developmental aid. They’ve also offered to help with aviation maintenance,” Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, Dana White, said.

    | Feb 2, 2018, 08:52 IST

    WASHINGTON: India is a key player in President Donald Trump‘s South Asia strategy, the Pentagon has said, adding that New Delhi has offered the United States with aviation maintenance and developmental aid.

    “Our relationship with India is multifaceted. India is helping with respect to the South Asian Strategy. They’ve provided a tremendous amount of developmental aid. They’ve also offered to help with aviation maintenance,” Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, Dana White, told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

    She was responding to questions on India’s role in fight against terrorism.

    “There’s an opportunity. India’s a perfect example of where the (defence) secretary wants to find and build relationships with partners, and so that’s what we are doing. And with respect to the South Asia Strategy, they are a key player in ensuring its success,” White said.

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    Niti will consult states to devise MSP scheme: Arun Jaitely

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    | Feb 2, 2018, 06:49 IST

    NEW DELHI: The Niti Aayog will explore various options and discuss the minimum support price (MSP) plan with states before devising the scheme, finance minister Arun Jaitely said on Thursday.

    Addressing a news conference after presenting his fifth Budget in Parliament, Jaitley defended the move to impose long-term capital gains tax and said resources will be made available to fund the mega programmes. He said there were several factors in the Budget which benefit people across the spectrum. “There are some factors which benefit all. Infrastructure benefits everyone,” Jaitley said.

    Finance secretary Hasmukh Adhia said there were two schemes before the government on MSP and it will have to choose one scheme or states can be given both the alternatives.

    “There is need for deep discussion on this with states. Niti Aayog will discuss the issue,” Adhia said, referring to MP’s Bhabantar scheme, in which the price difference is paid to farmers. “The other option is providing the infrastructure for actual procurement in states. The Centre and states can share the cost for the project,” he said.

    The FM said high crude price could have an impact if it breaches the range with which the government is comfortable. “I am personally not willing to share my view on which way the prices will go. Nobody predicted the fall when it took place and nobody predicted the rise when it is taking place. I think there is a certain range which keeps us comfortable and if it goes beyond, obviously it has its own consequences. We are almost on the verge of that range at the moment,” he said.

    Adhia said the excise duty on petrol and diesel was being reduced and this would be converted into a cess and it would not impact final prices. He said the earlier road cess was being subsumed under the road and infrastructure cess to fund roads, railways and urban infrastructure.

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    Irked with Budget, N Chandrababu Naidu to review ties with BJP

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    VIJAYAWADA: Irked over the lack of allocation for Andhra Pradesh in the Union Budget, chief minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu has convened an emergency meeting of the party on Friday to take a call on whether to continue with the TDP-BJP alliance both at the Centre and in the state.

    Soon after the presentation of the Budget on Thursday, Naidu conducted a teleconference with party leaders as well as TDP MPs in Delhi and convened a meeting of the TDP parliamentary board on Sunday.

    “The allocations are very dissatisfactory and it is for BJP to explain how it will address this. In the meantime, we will take the message to the people as to how AP was completely ignored in the Budget,” was Naidu’s message to TDP leaders.

    Sources said several ministers and MPs told Naidu that the “injustice” can be answered only by severing ties with BJP. “However, Naidu advocated restrain for the time being and suggested that they wait for the Budget session to end before taking any decision. However, by the evening, he convened meetings on Friday and on Sunday as the disappointment over the treatment meted out to AP in the Budget was wide and deep,” said sources. In the evening, Naidu met ministers and pointed out the railway projects sanctioned for Maharashtra. “It is very disappointing,” he is said to have remarked. “If this is the situation, we will have to rethink the alliance,” said spokesperson Jupudi Prabhakar Rao.

    “The chief minister is unhappy. We expected funds for AP but the Budget ignored the revenue deficit state and instead favoured developed cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru,” said agriculture minister Somireddi Chandramohan Reddy.



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    Rajdhanis, Shatabdis to get modern coaches

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    | Feb 2, 2018, 04:18 IST

    NEW DELHI: Railway minister Piyush Goyal said his ministry continues to focus on the use of technology to ensure safety on its network.

    He said the railways would spend over Rs 73,000 crore, or half the capital expenditure earmarked, on safety. This money will be spent on projects related to overhaul of the signalling and telecommunication system and track renewal.

    The minister said, “The government is drastically scaling up investments by almost three times to Rs 1,46,500 crore in 2018-19,” he said. He added that the railways would get a gross budgetary support of Rs 55,000 crore from the finance ministry. “I have to give people security.

    My target is to have CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi in all trains and all coaches,” he said, adding that the government plans to create worldclass modern train sets, including ‘Train 18’ and ‘Train 20’. The aim is to produce 100 such train sets, which will replace Shatabdi and Rajdhani coaches in the near future.

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    Budget 2018: Ear to the ground, eye on votes

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    NEW DELHI: From burnishing its pro-poor credentials to appeasing the restive, sprawling rural constituency and speeding up job creation, the Budget seeks to achieve crucial objectives for PM Narendra Modi and his party in the run-up to the 2019 polls.

    For several years, the government considered bringing back the longterm capital gains tax on equities but dropped the idea because of the fear of a stock slump. On Thursday, the government bit the bullet and seems poised to reap benefits for summoning the courage to stop incentivising a tiny section.

    The calculation is that the levy on capital gains on equity will, in part, provide the funds needed for ‘Modicare’, supposed to be the world’s largest public-funded health insurance scheme, an audacious initiative which should bury the political insinuation that Modi‘s was a “suit-boot ki sarkar”.

    The charge had looked an exaggeration after the government managed to sell demonetisation as a wealth redistribution scheme, a tool which robbed the corrupt rich to pay the honest poor.

    The sheer optics of a Budget — which blends the imposition of capital gains tax with ambitious schemes of health insurance for the poor and paying farmers 50% over the cost of production along with benefits for women and senior citizens — should blunt whatever punch, if any, the “Ambani-Adani taunt” would have still packed.

    If the setback among Gujarat farmers warned government of rural unrest due to stagnation in agriculture, the Budget shows that the BJP leadership did not waste time imbibing the message.

    The plan to cushion producers and consumers of perishable crops like potatoes, onions and tomatoes against the vagaries of production should help deal with grouses that took away from the government’s success in checking runaway inflation under the UPA and dulled the appeal of its welfare moves.

    Expansion of MSP cover to 24 crops covering 90% of arable land, extension of credit facility to animal husbandry and dairy farming and the plan to extend the benefit to share-croppers and lessees should calm a countryside that’s displayed its annoyance with BJP yet again by going with Congress in the Rajasthan bypolls.

    The measures will amplify the message that Modi has sought to put across by providing free cooking gas connections to the poor, reaching electricity to thousands of unlit villages and constructing subsidised houses for the rural populace at a fast pace.

    Micro, small and medium enterprises have been celebrated as the new potential engine of growth, with benefits proposed to compensate them for the hit they took post-demonetisation and in the wake of GST rollout.

    Concern for job-creation that fits the conventional description was reflected in FM’s incentives for labourintensive sectors of leather and textiles and the nudge to employers to formalise jobs.

    Sullenness among youth — another constituency, which like farmers, turned out in huge numbers for Modi in 2014 — has emerged as a major worry. The government expects jobs to emerge from the thrust on infrastructure as well.

    Absence of tax relief for the middle class may not necessarily reflect a shift of affection away from Modi. It is sure to upset vocal categories, with the surprise decision to announce fixing salaries of MPs fuelling angst.

    But what looks like an ommision in a perfectly political budget may perhaps also be an indication that it may not be this government’s last one before it faces the popular test.



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