Once again, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is facing a suspension in free health services provided under the Sehat Card Plus Programme over the non-payment of dues by the caretaker government. The State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan (SLICP) took this decision on Tuesday, putting many at risk who depend on the programme for essential medical care. This incident once again illustrates that poor management and lack of policy continuity across governments continue to hold back service delivery initiatives that could be transformative if implemented properly.
As per reports, the insurance company has stated that it will discontinue the free health services across the province if the arrears were not cleared by August 25. The company, however, stated that it would provide emergency services to patients in hospitals on their panel.
This potentially revolutionary initiative that was launched in 2018-19, has faced numerous financing related hurdles over the past couple of years. In fact, the insurance company also suspended its services earlier this year in April when the caretaker government led by the elderly Mohammad Azam Khan had failed to make payments to the insurance company. At that time, the government was supposed to pay Rs14 billion to the company. While services were soon resumed after the chief secretary made a commitment, the provincial government still did not fulfill its promise to make the payments.
Now that the arrears have ballooned to Rs 28 billion, SLICP argues that it is not possible for the company to continue its free health services. Even though the insurance company was asking for a fraction of the overall amount, the government has still failed to address this issue. If existing programs are allowed to wither away in such a manner, then one wonders if there is any hope for the projects in the pipeline, and if the government’s promises are worth anything.
To devise and then launch a universal healthcare model that had the potential to be scaled, only for it to be sabotaged by poor financial management, is quite tragic. The outstanding amount is set to increase further in September, so the government must offer a clear stance on what it intends to do here. Be it for financial constraints or political considerations ahead of the general elections, our lack of interest in sustaining and building upon policies and initiatives across governments will continue to hold back our development and progress.