LAHORE: The State Life Insurance Company (SLIC) has hinted at the closure of the Sehat Sahulat Programme in Punjab due to the non-payment of pending liabilities to the tune of Rs83bn.

It was the first-ever clear warning the company has issued to close the flagship scheme of former prime minister Imran Khan in Punjab where over 25m families were getting free treatment at 724 public and private hospitals.

One of the major reasons behind the sorry state of affairs and possible closure of the programme is stated to be political motives.

Sources said that the PML-N government, during its brief tenure last year, had given a signal to slow down the health card programme launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), setting aside the success stories of the mega scheme, which was rendering free healthcare service to all citizens.

Insurance company warns of halting services from April 1; PHIMC says govt pledged Rs10bn, the programme to continue

“In absence of due premium payment from the Punjab government, the State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan would not be able to continue services under Sehat Sahulat Programme after April 1, 2023,” reads the official document pertaining to the company’s warning.

It informed the Punjab government in writing about the possible closure of the programme on March 14 after sending several reminders for clearance of the pending dues.

According to the documents, huge funds of about Rs125bn were allocated by the Punjab govt for the Sehat Sahulat Programme for the fiscal year of 2022-23 to cater for the health needs of people in Punjab.

Of them, the government released Rs31bn while Rs94bn are yet to be released.

The insurance company has complained that the current premium invoices of Rs83.5bn are pending with the Punjab Health Initiative Management Company (PHIMC), mandated for the execution of the Sehat Sahulat Programme in Punjab.

A PHIMC official said the PTI had extended the scope of the programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Islamabad during its tenure where all families were the beneficiaries of the programme. He said the programme’s prime objective was to improve access of the underprivileged to quality medical services through a micro-health insurance scheme.

The PTI’s Sehat Sahulat Programme was well-received by the general public, he said, adding that the federal and provincial governments also extended a massive amount of financial support. The contract was awarded to the State Life Insurance Corporation to carry out the huge task of Universal Health Insurance.

The Punjab Cabinet had granted approval for the provision of the Sehat Sahulat Cards to the entire population of the province, making an eligible family get free treatment up to Rs1m.

The official said that as the PML-N came into power in Punjab last year, it tried to politicise the programme by giving signals of closing it down, giving lame excuses of ‘lack of finance’.

Meanwhile, he said, the programme was slowed down during the tenure of the PML-N when the pending liabilities were delayed to the insurance company, probably knowingly. Soon, Parvez Elahi became the chief minister when the PTI-PML-Q coalition regained power in the province. However, after the formation of the caretaker set-up, the release of funds for the programme again suffered as the payments got delayed.

Following the situation, several empanelled public and private sector hospitals in Punjab had raised the issue of delayed payments.

Similarly, the insurance company also reportedly showed serious concern over the pending premium invoices.

“The insurance company has issued more than 30 reminders to the payment of pending invoices,” the official said while quoting the official complaint of the company registered recently on March 14.

“The number of reminders shows that the caretaker government is not serious about running the programme in Punjab.”

The official lamented that if the huge payment was further delayed for a week or so, the company would surely shut down the services, rendering millions of patients untreated under the Sehat Sahulat Programme.

PHIMC Chief Executive Officer Ali Razzaq told Dawn he was in contact with both government authorities and the insurance company’s top management for mediation between them and for the release of the pending dues. He confirmed that the company had complained in writing about the non-payment of pending invoices, saying as huge finances were involved, the government had promised to release Rs10bn. Other amounts would also be paid accordingly, Mr Razzaq said, making it clear that the programme would not be shut down in Punjab.

Talking about the salient features of the programme, the PHIMC official said the programme was also covering one-day pre-hospitalisation and five-day post-hospitalisation expenses, including medicines, besides transportation costs equal to Rs1,000 per trip for three trips per year. He said the health coverage for deserving families was divided into multiple categories, including major and secondary diseases.

Under the given package, all the cardholders were initially allotted Rs300,000 per family, annually with additional coverage of Rs300,000, if necessary.

The priority diseases package covers treatment for some specific types of diseases, including heart diseases, chronic diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, HIV, chronic liver disease, kidney dialysis, burns and accidents, treatment for cancer, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, neurosurgical procedures, organ failure management etc.

Similarly, the second care treatment package was providing the Sehat Card having Rs60,000 per family annually besides another amount of Rs60,000 for all types of illnesses, all surgical diseases and maternity services, including C-Section, and normal delivery.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023

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