CMHT HEALTH SCHEME FACES CHALLENGES: FUND CRUNCH, DELAYED REIMBURSEMENTS, AND UNPRECEDENTED HURDLES IMPACTING PATIENTS
Imphal: The Chief Ministergi Hakshelgi Tengbang (CMHT) health scheme designed to benefit economically disadvantaged citizens in Manipur, faces severe challenges, including financial constraints and operational hurdles. The implementation issues have been exacerbated by irregularities in health card issuance, raising concerns about the effectiveness of the program.
Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh launched the CMHT on January 21, 2018, during his first term in office, offering coverage of up to Rs two lakh per eligible family identified through the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) for the treatment of seven critical ailments, including cardiovascular diseases, kidney ailments, neurological conditions, liver ailments, cancer, neo-natal diseases, and burns annually. By April 4, 2022, the government, under his leadership, increased the hospitalization benefits within the scheme to Rs 5 lakh per family annually, bringing joy to patients in need.
Despite its vision, the scheme has encountered financial constraints and operational hurdles.
The financial strains came to light when a coalition of private hospitals in the state, operating as the "Association of Healthcare Providers (India)" Manipur State Chapter, wrote to Biren Singh on August 17, 2023. They requested the settlement of outstanding bills accrued in providing benefits to CMHT beneficiary patients at their facilities.
Amid the ongoing ethnic strife plaguing Manipur, the association urged the Chief Minister for the swift settlement of long-standing bills related to both CMHT and Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (PMJAY) incurred by private hospitals in Manipur. PMJAY is a central flagship scheme offering health coverage of Rs 5 lakh per family per year.
The association expressed their concern, stating, "unfortunately, the bills for patient treatment in these hospitals have remained unreimbursed for the past five months. This has created difficulties in settling payments to vendors for medicines and consumables, as well as covering staff salaries necessary for the hospitals' operations.”
Seeking confidentiality, a staff member from an empanelled hospital disclosed that the outstanding bills for both CMHT and PMJAY are in the tens of crores.
While the exact total pending amount of the private hospitals was not specified in the letter, it earnestly implored the chief minister to acknowledge the challenges confronting the hospitals during the current state of unrest. The request emphasises the need for a prompt disbursement of funds to facilitate the smooth provision of services to patients.
The representation highlighted that a significant portion of private hospitals in Manipur is enlisted for both CMHT and PMJAY, actively catering to the healthcare needs of the local population.
Due to the delayed release of funds, a substantial number of economically disadvantaged patients, who had arrived at CMHT-empanelled private hospitals with optimism for cashless treatment, found themselves being required to make upfront payments. They were then left hoping for reimbursement once the hospital's outstanding CMHT bills were settled. Unable to find a means to access treatment under CMHT or PMJAY, the distressed patients were compelled to resort to borrowing money or selling their assets to gain admission to hospitals
Meanwhile reliable source revealed that the government is preparing to gradually settle the outstanding amounts, providing a glimmer of hope, but patients continue to face challenges, including extended waiting times and difficulties accessing prescribed medicines
Tomba Singh (48), a resident of Imphal West district, shared his frustration inherent in acquiring benefits under the scheme. "It took over three hours to wait in queues for the registration for treatment under the CMHT card for my ailing elder sister by the attending doctor. Even after obtaining the required approval, we had to endure another lengthy wait for the subsequent processes,” Tomba said.
According to him, since every prescription must be signed at the CMHT counter, the processing time for this step was also extensive. He mentioned that the officials provided a list of pharmacies where medicines were accessible at no cost under the scheme. Tomba lamented, "However, when the prescribed medicines were not available at the designated pharmacies, we had to purchase them from other chemist shops, spending our own money”.
Meanwhile, on December 8 of the previous year, the state health directorate released a public notice, indicating that the State Nodal Cell (CMHT) had observed the presence of unauthorised individuals in possession of CMHT cards. The notice issued by the Director of Health Services and State Nodal Officer CMHT, Kh Sasheekumar Mangang, stated that the individuals possessing the cards include government employees and their families, pensioners, as well as non-poor households falling under the exclusion criteria outlined by the state government for CMHT.
The announcement instructed all unauthorised holders of CMHT cards to return their cards by December 31, emphasising that failure to do so could lead to punitive measures. The surrender of CMHT cards can be done at the CMHT counter located in all public hospitals, as well as at the Directorate of Health Services Room No. 127, or by reaching out to the CMHT Toll-Free Number 18001032015, as stated in the notification.
Following the issuance of the notification, a significant number of individuals in possession of unauthorized CMHT cards have complied by surrendering them to the health directorate.