Instead of learning from the bitter experiences of others, we end up making the same mistakes and fall into the same pit in which someone else has fallen before our eyes. I have written in detail a few years ago that the government’s health card scheme is actually a plan to privatize the health sector which started with the issuance of health cards in Punjab and Sindh during Nawaz Sharif’s era. Then, Pervez Khattak’s provincial government rebranded it as Insaf Card and issued it in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
I am firmly convinced that Imran Khan’s government has resorted to blatant lies and deception. Perhaps, those who brought Imran Khan to power want him to fulfill the agenda which Nawaz Sharif left incomplete. Nawaz Sharif could only work on a limited scale because he was convinced that he would be re-elected and then way the way for Maryam.
Imran Khan doesn’t have a political heir and his role and legacy will end with him. And those who brought were convinced Khan could do everything that a democratically-elected prime minister might not do such as devaluating the rupee, raising taxes, inflation, petrol, electricity, gas prices handing over to SBP to IMF, and compromising on Kashmir.
The same is true of Insaf Health Card, which is a neo-liberal plan to hand over the health system in Pakistan completely to the private sector like the United States. Therefore, it was necessary to bring public hospitals to the brink of collapse, then offer treatment facilities in private hospitals through insurance companies as gradually replace public hospitals.
This was started by former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar with the closure of hospitals like Pakistan Kidney and Liver Transplant Institute and subordinated hospitals to the boards. Now the scope of health cards is being extended in Punjab after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, then maybe it will be issued in Balochistan and Sindh also.
This is actually a deceptive trap glazed with honey and laced with poison through which Khan is also dreaming of winning the next elections. He thinks that free treatment in a private hospital up to one million rupees will help people forget the bitter realities of life.
If one wants to understand this system, one should understand a few basic things. The government claims that up to one million rupees of treatment can be availed through this card, but it does not say that this treatment is not free. This is due to the payment of insurance premium which is initially paid by the government through Bait-ul-Mal or Zakat. This financially-bankrupt government may at any time or stage say that it does not have the money to pay the insurance premium.
The government has not made clear is that this limit of one million is reserved for the individual holding the card or his family? Is it for once only or a lifetime? Will the government end the facility at any time?
Earlier the treatment in government hospitals, whether it was 100 rupees is 2.5 million, was completely free for unlimited time. The unavailability of medicines is due to a lack of financial resources which is an administrative matter which can be solved with little attention.
Citizens have been deprived of an indiscriminate treatment facility and a temporary card is being provided which can be withdrawn or suspended at any time. In his new system, public hospitals will be sold to the private sector where a panel will send the bill to the defunct government. There is a strong possibility that the government will be unable to meet these demands at a certain stage or will make late payments.
The issuance of cards will continue to make the plan a reality for political gains. There will come a time when the government will give up the claim of health cards being free and the people will have two options to pay the premium themselves or go to the private sector for treatment.
This will not only deprive the poor of access to public hospital facilities but will also create a monopoly on the private sector and increase the cost of medical treatment. This could also be a nightmare for doctors who are receiving jobs in government hospitals today and yet appear to be protesting daily for benefits and pay raises. Given the closure of public hospitals, the private sector will be performing tedious duties in long shifts at extremely low salaries.
This insurance system will open new avenues for corruption and opening private hospitals will be become a lucrative business receiving fake insurance. It will also be a new formed of political bribery through which the government will reward its favorite hospitals and their owners. The government will use budget, mismanagement or corruption as an excuse to get rid of public hospitals and make the lives of the public even more miserable.