India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the inauguration of a hydroelectric power plant in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar, May 19, 2018. In 2014, Modi’s campaign strategists succes
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the inauguration of a hydroelectric power plant in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar, May 19, 2018. In 2014, Modi’s campaign strategists succes

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme, promising free coverage for half a billion of the country's poorest citizens ahead of national elections next year.

Modi says the plan will be the world's biggest healthcare plan, benefiting more than the population of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined.

The flagship program, dubbed "Modicare" would cover the bottom 40 percent of India's 1.25 billion people.

The plan, unveiled in the federal budget earlier this year, would provide the 100 million lowest-income families with $6,900 in annual heath insurance to treat serious ailments.

India spends about 1% of its annual GDP on public health making it among the world's lowest. Many of the poorest just go without care.

A report published this month by The Lancet medical journal found substandard healthcare was responsible for an estimated 1.6 million deaths a year in India -- the highest anywhere in the world.

"We want to strengthen the hands of the poor and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in pursuit of good health," Prime Minister Modi posted on Twitter.

The scheme is expected to cost the central and 29 state governments $1.6 billion per year in total. Funding will be increased gradually according to demand.

India's overburdened public health system is plagued by a shortage of facilities and doctors and most people use private clinics and hospitals if they can afford to. But a private consultation can cost $15, a huge sum for millions living on less than $2 a day.

 

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