New Delhi: Terming it as the world's largest government funded healthcare programme, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced the National Health Protection Scheme under which Rs 5 lakh cover will be provided a year to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families in the country.

"We are now launching a flagship national health protection scheme to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families. This is approximately 50 crore beneficiaries, by providing them up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation," Jaitley said presenting the 2018-19 Union Budget.

Emphasising that the initiative would take healthcare protection to a new aspirational level, Jaitley said the initiative was part of Ayushman Bharat and adequate funds will be provided for its smooth implementation.

"This was aimed at making path breaking interventions to address health holistically, in primary, secondary and tertiary care systems, covering both prevention and health promotion," said Jaitley.

Under the Ayushman Bharat, the government has also decided to fund Rs 1,200 crore for 1.5 lakh health wellness centres across the nation. The decision to convert the Primary Health Centres into wellness centres was taken in last fiscal budget (2017-18). However, the money was not allocated for it.

The healthcare industry termed the government's National Health Protection Scheme as an out of the box idea, saying that it will emerge a boon for the beneficiaries.

BJP president Amit Shah tweeted: "Ayushman Bharat' is an unparalleled initiative to ensure health insurance as well as health assurance. Protecting 10 crore families i.e about 40% of India's population with a health insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family is a global first."

"My heartiest congratulations to this government for investing in creating a swasth bharat by launching the Ayushman Bharat programme. Such ambitious out of the box thinking was a burning need of the hour and the government has not disappointed. The initiative to cover 10 crore families with 5 lakh per family/per year with Insurance Cover for Secondary and Tertiary healthcare will be a game changer," said Prathap Reddy, Chairman of Apollo Hospitals in a statement.

Jaitley stated that the two schemes will also generate lakhs of jobs, particularly for women.

According to Healthcare Foundation of India (NATHEALTH), a body focused to develop and optimize healthcare infrastructure, the National Health Protection Scheme will go a long way to achieve the goals of Universal Health Coverage.

Vivek Srivastava, CEO and Co-Founder of Healthcare at Home, a growing home healthcare provider, said the National Health Protection Scheme will benefit 40 per cent of the country's population.

"Through this initiative the government has indeed taken concrete steps in reducing India's health burden. Accessibility and affordability can further be improved for the rural population," said Srivastava.

Jaitley as part of the union budget (2018-19) also announced Rs 600 crore for nutritional support of Tuberculosis patients in India.

"The Government also decided to allocate additional Rs 600 crore to provide nutritional support to all TB patients at the rate of Rs 500 per month for the duration of their treatment," said Jaitley.

A total of 24 new government medical colleges have also been announced as part of the new initiative for health by the government.

"To enhance accessibility of quality medical education and health care, 24 new Government Medical Colleges and Hospitals will be set up, by up-grading existing district hospitals in the country," said Jaitley.

According to him, this move would ensure that there is at least one Medical College for every three Parliamentary Constituencies and at least one Government Medical College in each state of the country.

Jaitley said the government has provided affordable medicines through more than 3,000 Jan Aushadhi centres; reduced prices of stents; and provided free dialysis services for the poor