The country’s policymakers and economic managers have introduced various schemes and programmes for the economic development and public welfare in Pakistan, aimed at benefiting the public at large with such initiatives continuing to run successfully in the long run. In recent decades, successive previous governments also introduced some schemes for general public welfare. But a majority of these schemes were really only designed to achieve short-term political gains and public popularity to earn votes for the next term, at the expense of taxpayers’ money. Yet, a few of these programmes have been continued by the ensuing governments due to their surprisingly positive outcomes.
For instance, the PML-N government introduced various schemes in its different terms, but a few of these initiatives which remained in the minds of the public included Yellow Cabs, the Tractors Scheme, and the PM Laptop Scheme. Similarly, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in its different tenures also introduced multiple programmes such as the Lady Health Workers Programme and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The incumbent government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has also introduced various schemes and programmes in the past three years in which it has been in power. A couple of schemes and projects received an overwhelming response from the public which are not only benefiting its targeted audience but also contributing significantly to the economic development of the country. These include Mera Pakistan, Mera Ghar scheme, and the initiative of Roshan Digital Accounts.
In less than a year, the subsidised low-cost scheme Mera Ghar received a whopping amount of Rs30 billion through various commercial banks. Not only is the ownership of housing units now possible for the middle-class income group in various cities, but the construction industry is also witnessing a rising curve in production and expansion, including allied sectors such as cement and steel. On the other hand, Roshan Digital Accounts is catering to the needs of overseas Pakistanis effectively for the first time in the history of the country. It attracted inflows of a colossal amount of $2 billion on account of foreign remittances. Overseas Pakistan can not only send remittances easily to their relatives living in Pakistan through banking channels, but they can also invest in the stock exchange and government bonds as well. They can also buy a car and now even a home under the umbrella of the same facility.
Likewise, the Sehat Sahulat Programme is one of the projects of the government which has the immense potential to set up a robust healthcare system across the country, and the key factor for ensuring its success may well be the participation of the private sector. The programme will utilise the fund allocation of the federal and provincial governments in a much better way on account of healthcare with the participation of private hospitals and private health insurance providers. This is not only an alternate way but it has been proven as effective in many countries. It is because the government focus will shift to provide quality health facilities to the masses rather than building hospitals and dispensaries through policymaking while the private sector will shoulder the responsibilities with its capacity and efficiency.
The private sector, mainly hospitals, are set to expand their network across the country, enhancing the quality of the services amid competition among the players. Similarly, the competition will come into play for insurance companies also, ensuring funds of the government and taxpayers are spent in an efficient way. The huge experience of private sector health insurance companies is undeniable and to leave them out of the Sehat Sahulat Programme would be highly inadvisable. The terms of reference for inclusiveness need to be made more flexible in this regard. So far, the programme has been launched in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in collaboration with the federal and provincial governments along with private sector hospitals. However, the entire insurance service part is operated through a single player, that is, the state-owned insurance institution, State Life Insurance Corporation. The reliance on the single entity is indeed a risk when it comes to both financial matters and more importantly for ensuring that the public can actually benefit. The very low rate of around one percent incidence or usage of the programme in KP clearly indicates that something is not quite right, mainly when we can easily witness a plethora of health issues among the citizens of the province.
The new model of health facilities needs a timely provision of services to patients for its success and sustainability, which can only be done if the claims under health insurance are processed speedily by the insurance company providing health cover to the beneficiaries. In the case of one player and a wide scope of work, it is highly challenging for merely one company to transfer the benefit to the masses at the grassroots level, considering the government has allocated an annual fund of over Rs25 billion to KP, and is now planning to allocate the hefty amount of nearly Rs100 billion in Punjab. The participation of various health insurance providers will not only bring efficiency in the system due to a combination of synergies of various market players in the sector, it will additionally result in the improvement of services to hospitals and curb the incidences of corruption, which causes the failure of many a well-intentioned scheme in Pakistan. In conclusion, for the real success of the programme, the government should avail of the services of the private sector for the success of the scheme and lay its focus on the role of facilitation and supervision to ensure an effective health system in the country under the new model.
The writer is an analyst on business, technology, and communic-ations. He can be reached