Chandigarh: After failing to persuade the Union health ministry to allow co-branding of Aam Aadmi Clinics (AACs), the Punjab government has mooted two fresh proposals — to treat AACs housed alongside health and wellness centres as a state scheme and deduction of grant on pro-rata basis.
The Bhagwant Mann-led Punjab government and the Union health ministry are embroiled in a dispute over the branding of Ayushman Bharat health and wellness centres (AB-HWCs) as AACs.As a punitive measure, the ministry had ceased releasing grants under the National Health Mission (NHM) to Punjab in December 2022. The outstanding grant has now reached Rs 621 crore.
The state has 664 AACs, with 236 in urban areas and 428 in rural areas. Among these, 390 have been established in primary health Ccenters (PHCs), which concurrently house AB-HWCs established under the Ayushman Bharat programme — a flagship scheme of the central government aimed at providing primary healthcare.
To break the deadlock, officials from the health department recently held a meeting with their counterparts in the health ministry. They proposed to recognise the 390 AB-HWCs co-located with AACs as a state scheme. According to the proposal, the state would shoulder all expenses related to these 390 AB-HWCs, while the health ministry would resume funding for the remaining HWCs and other NHM grants. The state currently has a total of 3,664 AB-HWCs. Punjab suggested to the ministry the option of deducting the grant for the 390 AB-HWCs on a pro-rata basis. According to the proposal, the state health ministry has urged the central ministry to resume funding under NHM after the specified deduction. “The AAC model has garnered international acclaim, earning the country the first prize at the Global Health Supply Chain Summit. The central government should extend support to the state government by promptly releasing funds,” said health minister Dr Balbir Singh.
At present, the state government is allocating funds from its own treasury to support NHM initiatives. Since April, the state government has earmarked Rs 50 crore per month to sustain NHM programmes. Since the launch of AACs, in which 84 essential medicines and 41 diagnostic tests are provided free of cost, the AAP government claims that about 70 lakh patients have benefitted. All clinics are equipped with IT-enabled systems, ensuring end-to-end digitisation of registration, doctor consultation, investigations, and prescriptions. This streamlined approach facilitates a five-step patient journey, significantly reducing turnaround time from patient registration to receiving a prescription.
Following objections raised by the Union health ministry regarding branding, the Punjab government, in March, moved a request for allowing “hybrid/fused” branding of primary health centres (PHCs) that house AB-HWCs and AACs. In a letter dated March 4, the Punjab government requested three months to carry out this exercise.
The ministry did not accede to the request and consistently asserted that all states/UTs have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the central government, obliging them to adhere to guidelines issued under NHM.
Responding to a question on the issue in Parliament earlier this year, the ministry said: “Punjab has branded AB-HWCs by the Indian government’s guidelines, and the release of funds depends on their compliance.”