ontrary to claims made by the caretaker Punjab government that no facility has been withdrawn with respect to the health insurance card scheme, dubbed as the Sehat Sahulat Card, the refusal by private hospitals in Lahore recently to entertain patients seeking cataract treatment on the said card has raised serious concerns.
It is pertinent to note that the Sehat Sahulat Card was the flagship programme of former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI government. Under the programme, citizens availed medical facilities both at public and private hospitals, including open heart surgeries, insertion of stents, management of cancer, neurosurgical procedures, burn management, accident management, dialysis, intensive care management, deliveries, C-section and eye surgeries for up to Rs 1 million per family per year.
The State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan has been offering subsidies on several medical procedures. Last year, the insurance company won the contract for the next three years (2022 to 2025). As per the procedure, once a patient is treated their bill is sent to the insurance company which takes up to 28 days to verify and clear the bill. Lately, however, a large number of empanelled private hospitals in the provincial metropolis have refused to extend services to patients seeking free treatment for various types of heart surgeries, laparoscopic surgeries, cholecystectomy, hernioplasty, hysterectomy, appendectomy, tonsillectomy, trans-urethral resection of prostate (TURP) and cataract disease — apparently due to payment issues.
Sources say the free treatment counters at some hospitals have been withdrawn. Likewise, the patients undergoing treatment for various types of chronic diseases on their health cards have been discharged from hospitals without completing their procedures, sparking protests and appeals by their relatives to allow completion of ongoing medical procedures and treatments.
Speaking anonymously, the owner of a private hospital on Jail Road says that his hospital has stopped providing treatment on health cards. “In fact, the government has stopped making payments for various medical services [under the health card scheme],” he says.
“Also, the amount offered per procedure is meagre. The health card provides Rs 15,000 for a delivery but that [amount] is not sufficient. That’s why a number of private hospitals now shy away from providing treatment on the health card.”
Amjad Khan, a resident of Samanabad, says he took his 46-year-old brother to Punjab Institute of Cardiology on Jail Road, but the doctors told him that stents could not be implanted as the vendor had stopped providing them the stents. Khan says that the doctors told him that his brother’s bills had not been cleared.
“The amount offered per procedure is meagre. The health card provides Rs 15,000 for a delivery but that is not sufficient. That’s why a number of private hospitals now shy away from providing treatment against the health card.”
Rehman Butt, another resident, recalls how his septuagenarian father was undergoing dialysis treatment at a private hospital in Model Town when they were told by the staff that free treatment (on the health card) could not be continued.
Describing the decision a cruel one, former MPA Sadia Sohail Rana says the caretaker government has limited powers and no authority to terminate the health card scheme. “This programme was legislated in the Punjab Assembly,” she says. “Hundreds of thousands of poor people were benefitting from the facility. It should continue without interruption.”
Interestingly, Lahore High Court’s Bahawalpur bench has already suspended the changes introduced in the Sehat Sahulat Programme by the caretaker government. Justice Asim Hafeez passed the order on a public interest petition filed by a citizen. Advocate Aftab Mubarik argued on behalf of the petitioner that the Punjab Health Initiative Management Company had issued a notification on June 22 to withdraw the facility without assigning valid reasons despite the fact that funds had already been allocated in the provincial budget for it.
Talking to TNS, the CEO of Punjab Health Initiative Management Company (PHIMC), Dr Ali Razzaque denied that the interim government had abolished the Sehat Sahulat Programme and withdrawn the health facilities being provided to the citizens under the programme. “We intend to just streamline the system,” he insisted. “Our sole aim is to expel the affluent class from taking advantage of the card which is only meant for the poor.”
Dr Razzaque says that the government has received a number of complaints regarding the substandard quality of lenses used. He says the number of cases of eye infections shortly after the implants was increasing. That’s why the government has formed a six-member committee to look into the matter. “If the committee finds no issues, permission will be granted to implant these lenses.”
As for heart surgeries, Dr Razzaque says, “We are certain that the quality of treatment and operations carried out in public sector hospitals is far better than that of private hospitals. So, in the future, most heart surgeries shall be performed free of cost at public hospitals.
“If someone wants to get the heart surgery done in a private hospital, they will have to bear 70 percent of the cost,” he adds.
The writer is a print and broadcast journalist