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Veterans up in arms over ‘poor health’ of their medical scheme

Sources say the Army has asked the govt for additional Rs 3,500 crore to meet “all the liabilities” of ECHS in the ongoing financial year even as veterans have complained about lack of medicines, medical staff and equipment at ECHS polyclinics.

, TNN|
Oct 21, 2019, 10.28 AM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Oct 21, 2019)
NEW DELHI: Military veterans are up in arms over the dismal state of the ex-servicemen contributory health scheme (ECHS), which has around 54 lakh beneficiaries but is reeling under the double whammy of grossly inadequate budgetary support and the continuing huge leakage of funds.

Sources say the Army has asked the government for an additional Rs 3,500 crore to meet “all the liabilities” of ECHS in the ongoing financial year at the revised estimate stage in December. Though the Army had projected a requirement of Rs 5,764 crore for ECHS, it was allocated only Rs 3,295 crore in the annual budget. While an officer pays Rs 1.20 lakh as a one-time payment to become an ECHS member, it is Rs 67,000 for junior commissioned officers and Rs 30,000 for jawans.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday assured the Army commanders’ conference of “a positive response” on the budgetary constraints being faced by ECHS. Army chief General Bipin Rawat, in turn, has been stressing the urgent need to “reduce the misuse of funds and corrupt practices” in ECHS, which operates through a network of 30 regional centres and 427 polyclinics around the country as well as 2,700 civil hospitals and diagnostic centres empanelled to provide cashless treatment to the beneficiaries.

“The practice by empanelled hospitals to generate inflated or fake bills has become rampant. Gen Rawat has told veterans to report such hospitals to the appropriate military authorities,” said a senior officer.

But veterans are also distressed at the widespread lack of medicines, medical staff and equipment at ECHS polyclinics. “Medicines are hardly available at the polyclinics for the last few months. My wife and I always return empty-handed. The ECHS is on the verge of collapsing,” said a retired brigadier.

An IAF veteran, virtually bed-ridden after suffering a stroke, said, “My polyclinic says it cannot issue me medicines for more than a week at a time when I require them for three months at a go. After enduring the mental and physical torture of being physically carried to the polyclinic by my son every week, we decided to buy the expensive medicines from the market.”

Amidst the prevailing fund crunch, the bulk of allocated money is going into clearing bills of the empanelled hospitals. “We are persistently trying to get more funds from the government but to no avail. Within the available funds, the Army has prioritised medicines for their availability, which includes drugs for cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” said the senior officer.

The veterans, however, say many empanelled hospitals are flatly refusing patients on the ground that their pending bills are not being cleared by ECHS or that the “rates fixed” for different treatments and operations are “too low”.

Incidentally, in its reports over the last few years, the CAG has slammed the alarming irregularities and deficiencies in the functioning of ECHS. It has also highlighted the “unethical practices” adopted by private empanelled hospitals, ranging from inflated bills for treatment of indoor patients to outright fake bills.

The audit watchdog also pointed out multiple enrolments of beneficiaries under the scheme, many instances of raising of two claims for the same patient during the same period, overpayments more than authorised packages, irregular payments towards unaccounted medical bills of empanelled hospitals and the like.
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