Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced a universal health coverage scheme named ‘Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana’ providing free healthcare in all government hospitals across the state.

It is a landmark initiative, said the chief minister while adding that it will come in to force from 15 August.

Cashless treatment will be extended to all patients and at least 3.5 crore people belonging to 70 lakh families will benefit, he said ( figures based on the average patient turn out in government hospitals).

Under the programme, a family will get up to Rs 5 lakh per annum to meet healthcare expenditure at all government-run hospitals.

The government will also provide Rs 500 to meet pick up and drop expense of pregnant women and infant admitted to government hospitals.

User fees charged at government hospitals will be stopped, he added. “One of our major commitments is universal health coverage. Today(Tuesday), in this regard, I am happy to announce that each and everyone visiting any government health institution from district to sub-center level will be provided all health services free of cost,” the CM told reporters. Health Minister Pratap Jena and officers of the department were quick to point out that the state government has always been ahead of other states and the centre in extending health care to people.

Schemes like Niramaya ( free medicine), Nidan, Sahay and Sunetra are all being implemented. More recently, the government had signed MoU with the Tata Group in healthcare to develop infrastructure, training for cancer care at all levels including the district and block level health care centres. Kidney related aliments are also treated free of cost in government hospitals as per the existing schemes, said the officers.

The health education has also received a boost in the state with establishment of new medical college hospitals both in the private and government sector.

Major private hospitals have also come up in the state in recent years and Bhubaneswar is fast becoming a healthcare hub with patients from eastern India states preferring treatment here, said Jena.

Tuesday’s announcement of free treatment and cashless coverage up to five lakhs per annum to every family is close to the announcement made by the central government in its last budget, but is yet to be implemented.