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Free healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean quality healthcare — and Indians are ruthless with their expectations of quality.

Say you are the government. How do you know a mega scheme meant to lift millions from suffering isn’t panning out the way you wanted? When it somehow turns into a tax debate. Therein lies one of the major conundrums for Ayushman Bharat, the world’s largest universal healthcare scheme (UHS).

Four days ago, India finally got healthcare for all when Prime Minister Modi launched Ayushman Bharat across 450 districts in 26 states. Early participants in the scheme include big names such as the Gurugram-headquartered Medanta Hospital. According to Indu Bhushan, CEO, Pradhan Mantri-Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), the scheme’s official moniker, others such as Apollo Hospitals and Narayana Health are expected to join soon.

Within 24 hours of the launch, more than 1,000 patients have reportedly benefitted from the scheme.

“It is commendable that the government launched such an elaborate scheme within seven to eight months,” says Probir Das, managing director of med-tech firm Terumo India. “Globally, most UHS plans have taken many years — some even 100 years to perfect themselves.”

That is just as well — because the tangles left in the path of Ayushman Bharat could take years to undo, delaying the impact on the ground the government would have hoped for, especially in the run up to the elections next year.

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