In the slide deck that Krishnamurthy Subramanian, the country’s chief economic adviser put together on Friday, January 29th for a slick presentation at a press conference on the Economic Survey 2020-21, there was one devoted to the pet project of the current government – Ayushman Bharat. With the flair of a teacher that Subramanian was in his earlier role as a professor at the Indian School of Business (ISB), he explained how improvement in insurance coverage with Ayushman Bharat had led to better health outcomes be it around dealing with infant and child mortality, maternal and child health, child vaccinations or few other parameters.
What was however hard to miss was the fact that it was also the last day in office of Indu Bhushan, the founding CEO of Ayushman Bharat or the National Health Authority, as it is also referred to. The government order issued earlier on January 27th did not give the reason for the change at the top for Ayushman Bharat other than stating that Indu Bhushan’s term in office concludes on January 31, 2021, which is perhaps the reason Friday, the 29th became his last day in office.
The note, however, announces Ram Sewak Sharma as the new CEO. Those who know Sharma close enough, describe him as an upright officer and one who comes with a great depth of understanding in information technology. Sharma is a masters in computer science from the University of California, Riverside, and highly regarded in the official circles for his role in the Aadhaar project.
So, is the change at Ayushman Bharat driven by the need for deeper skills in IT?
There is no clear answer though some within the government also point out that Bhushan, was instrumental in building the strong IT backbone, including putting in place systems in place to check fraud and abuse and all of it in a short period of time – roughly about six months since he came on board in April 2018.
Since then, it has withstood close to 1.6 crore treatments across the 24,000 odd hospitals in the country – figures that keep popping up on the Ayushman Bharat website. When contacted by Financial Express Online, Bhushan did not wish to comment and confined himself to saying that his term in office was ending on January 31st.
As is apparent now, it is up to Ram Sewak Sharma, who for the next two years will need to push the insurance-based, insurance-funded, hospital-based care model that Ayushman Bharat stands for. Will he revisit this model or give it an added strength or build a new scaffolding of technology around it, needs to be seen.