Presenting his last full budget before the general elections due in early 2019, Jaitley provided a relatively small allocation of Rs 2,000 crore for the Ayushman Bharat health scheme for what he described as the world's largest government-funded healthcare programme. It aims to cover 50 crore poor people with medical insurance.
‘National Health Protection Scheme under which Rs 5 lakh medical insurance cover will be provided annually to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families in India will be implemented by the end of 2018.’
"I believe that once the work starts, the scheme will be fully implemented by the end of the year," Jaitley said while replying to the discussion on the Budget in the Rajya Sabha.
In a post-Budget briefing on February 1, Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia had said it would take another six months for the scheme to be worked out and may not be implemented for the entire financial year.
The Finance Minister has subsequently clarified that the Rs 2,000 crore was an initial outlay and that more funds would be made available going ahead.
On Friday, Jaitley told the Rajya Sabha that the massive scale of such a scheme will ensure that premium costs stay low.
"The basic principle of such a scheme is that the numbers are very large, but hospitalisation expenses, on the other hand, are limited," he said.
"If the numbers are very large, then the premium will be quite less. The Niti Aayog has made an initial assessment on this," he added.
Queried by members on the states' share of expenses on the national health scheme, Jaitley said the working of the GST Council had shown the way of cooperation between the Centre and the states in other areas.
"Let the Niti Aayog coordinate with the states on the modalities of sharing expenses," he said.
"The GST Council has shown the successful coordination between the Centre and the states, and this is one area (health scheme) where this can be started. Cooperation in this area is eminently desirable and possible," he added.