PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will pass a law to give legal cover to Social Health Protection Initiative and ensure its sustainability to facilitate people in getting free health services in future.

“Sehat Card Plus is our own programme and nobody can stop it. We are presenting a law in the next cabinet meeting to give it legal protection. The people, even if they are not PTI supporters, should stand against its stoppage,” Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra wrote on social media.

He said that people wouldn’t forgive the ‘imported’ government for ending the programme.

Officials in health department said that a meeting in that regard was held a few days ago wherein matters, including legislation regarding the programme, were discussed.

They said that the proposed ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Universal Health Coverage Act, 2022’ would make the programme a regular feature in the province and the people would continue to get free treatment services.

The draft legislation has been lying with law department for vetting. After the vetting, it will be placed before the cabinet for approval to be passed by the provincial assembly to make it a law.

The programme was launched on pilot basis in four districts to provide free health services to four per cent population of the province in 2015. It was extended to 51 per cent population in 2016 and then to 69 per cent residents of the province in 2017.

The programme was extended to the entire province in November 2020. Now it covers 7.4 million families of the province and they are eligible for free diagnosis and treatment services in both public and private hospitals designated by the government.

Officials said that Rs23.5 billion had been so far spent on the programme but there was no legal cover to it and the PTI government feared that it could be wrapped up in future.

“So far, the programme is run through executive order, which can be undone by any government in future. With legislation, it wouldn’t be possible for the government to do away with the programme without reversing the law but in present shape it is easy to be terminated at all and leave the people high and dry,” they said.

The piece of draft law is meant to institutionalise the free health insurance programme and make it obligatory on the government to continue it. As per the law, a commission will be formed with board of governors to take prompt decisions and ensure that the people get continuous health services free of cost.

Officials said that government was in better position to pass the law as it had two-third majority required to pass the law in the provincial assembly. They said that under the programme, the residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were entitled to seek free treatment in any province in the hospitals empanelled by the government for the purpose.

Officials said that all the residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were entitled to free treatment in about 500 hospitals in the country under the programme.

“For the current year, the government has allocated Rs21 billion for the programme. From time to time, the number of hospitals is being increased and new diseases are added to the list of ailments covered under SHPI. It covers admitted patients,” they said.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2022

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