The Sehat Card and the Sehat Sahulat Programme may be the closest Pakistan has come to the provision of universal healthcare but it seems as though the initiative is plagued with countless problems that pop up every now and then. The latest issue is that of non-payment for procedures covered under the health card, because of which hospitals have refused to provide services.

The Sehat Sahulat Programme encompasses at least 600 hospitals across the country including a number of private hospitals. As of recently, there have been complaints that payments have not been processed for the countless procedures done under the card. This is especially troublesome as hospitals claim that their vendors have now refused to provide supplies because they have not been able to make payments. In such a situation, not only do the patients suffer but the hospitals’ functions are compromised indefinitely. The situation has become so desperate that hospital directors have been making partial payments to vendors out of their own pockets while they wait for the funds to come through. This is highly irresponsible and a responsibility that private hospitals in particular did not take upon themselves.

The Ministry itself is of the stance that no complaints about nonpayment have been forwarded to it and that in a case when a hospital refuses to give treatment, patients should go to another of the 600 hospitals under the programme. This is dodging the problem instead of facing it head on. Grievances must be heard, if not for the sake of the hospitals then for the people who have been promised free healthcare.

It would be advisable for the 28-day verification process carried out by the insurance company which is in charge of clearing bills to be shortened. Further, there still seems to be a lack of awareness about which medical problems are covered under the cards as most expect coverage even at the outpatient department instead of complete hospitalisation. Lastly, there is an immense disparity between the actual cost of treatment and the amount promised to hospitals. This is a severe problem as it puts undue pressure onto hospitals. Such issues must be addressed immediately or else the constant stream of complaints will erode the goodwill and praise this initiative has generated.