Free treatment under ‘Sehat Card Plus’ continues unabated despite payment controversies

PESHAWAR:Despite payment controversies between the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and the State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan (SLICP), treatment under the "Sehat Card Plus' program has continued, free-of-charge medical and surgical healthcare services were being provided to patients irrespective of their financial position.

"I was dangling between life and death and not sure about my survival when I faced a heart attack while eating my dinner in Kohat. I felt severe pain in my chest and was rushed to Liauqat Memorial Hospital where doctors gave me initial treatment and immediately referred me to Peshawar for further treatment," said Jamal-ud-Din, a heart patient of Kohat district while narrating his ordeal to APP.

"The situation was serious and I was out of cash due to the market situation and loss of work in a computer shop. When I was on my way to the hospital in semiconscious condition, my prime concern was how my cash-stripped family would bear the burden of costly treatment events in a public sector hospital," he said.

"However, my worries were evaporated when my family member, who was accompanying me to Peshawar informed me about the free healthcare facilities being provided to needy and poor patients under the 'Sehat Card Plus' which he termed a milestone achievement to help out patients that are unable to bear financial expenses to treatment."

The SCP program was launched by the previous government under a social protection initiative in December 2015, which initially covered free medical, diagnostic, and surgical treatment of about 50 percent population of the province.

"Treatment under SCP continued in KP despite financial crunch and around 9.7 million families benefited from the incentive costing Rs 30 billion in the second phase,” said Dr Riaz Tanoli, Chief Executive Officer, of SCP Program KP while talking to reporter.

In the first phase, he said about 2.3 million people availed of free treatment facilities, and Rs six billion were spent on their medical treatment. The program caters to around one million needy families and has provided free treatment to approximately 2.5 million patients so far. The annual financial implications of the program are about Rs 33 billion, and the government intermittently disburses Rs 2 billion to sustain its operation.

Primarily, the program was launched in Kohat, Mardan, Malakand and Chitral districts wherein as many as 1.8 million poor households (approximately 150 million people) were entitled to get free medical treatment up to Rs 540,000 at designated hospitals of the province.

Later in February 2019, the program was extended across the country including all districts of Khyber in its second phase with a target to provide free treatment including surgeries and medicines up to rupees one million to each family of over 80 million people at 1000 designated hospitals.

“The program initially covered three percent of the population in four districts in 2015 and later extended to 51pc, 70pc and 100 percent population of the province till November 2019 in three different phases respectively," Dr Tanoli said.

Despite the change of government in KP, he said the program continued unabated including in tribal districts, and the caretaker government had extended support by releasing the allocated funds for the project.

"There is no shortage of funds as the caretaker government in KP has so far released the required amount to SLICP for facilitation and relief of ailing community," he said.

He said that the SCP program was protected through an act passed by the KP assembly and would continue till amendments or abolishing it by the provincial assembly.

"In this period of unprecedented inflation and price hike, it is very difficult for poor and marginalized communities to meet both ends while bearing expenses of costly treatment is considered as a nightmare by those strata that are living below the poverty line," said Dr Naeem Khan, a medical professional.

He said, "Prices of medicines are ascending with each passing day so are the treatment, surgical, and diagnostic labs charges.

"Sehat card is a blessing for those who are unable to meet their daily life expenses owing to their meager financial resources," he told that and suggested that the facility must be continued keeping in view the sufferings and poverty of people.

“It is relief for those, who are moving from pillar to post to end the sufferings of their beloved ones in this time of unprecedented inflation”, he said.

Secretary of Health KP, Mahmood Aslam, has reaffirmed the commitment of the government to provide free healthcare services to all residents of KP. Under the sahat card plus initiative, treatment facilities continue to be accessible to everyone, so that no one is left behind.

"The program has been designed to offer quality healthcare services to all residents, regardless of their economic status," he added.

The Secretary of Health said, "Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan has directed the department to continue the provision of free healthcare facilities under the SCP to ailing humanity."

"As per the CM instructions, the issue of stalled payment of SCP has been addressed and the required funds were released to the partner of the scheme i.e. State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan," he said.