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Even after making a budget allocation of Rs 34,000 crore for vaccination, the Centre seems keen to get the states and the private sector to cross-subsidise its procurement of vaccines — there is no other rationale for multi-tiered vaccine pricing. A legitimate source of funding vaccine purchase is health insurance. All health insurance companies, including those providing State-sponsored Ayushman Bharat, can legitimately be asked to pony up the tab for procuring vaccines for everyone who is insured with them. After all, it makes sense for insurance companies to pre-empt having to pay for the hospitalised care for Covid of those insured with them.
All pre-funded insurance schemes should pay for the inoculation. The Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) is a good example to follow. It plans to vaccinate nearly 13 crore people — 3.5 crore registered workers and their dependents — free of cost. The ESIC offers full medical care to an insured person and her family members from the day she enters insurable employment. There is no cap on expenditure on the treatment of the insured person. Rightly, eligible beneficiaries below 45 years of age will also be vaccinated free of cost. States should also use the proceeds of the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess to vaccinate about 3.5 crore construction workers. While every individual getting vaccinated has to pre-register and every vaccinated person gets a certificate after the jab, it is far from obvious that insurance companies or governments at the Centre and the states have any reliable way of managing their databases to match the insured with the vaccinated. It would be simpler for insurance companies to pay the Centre for their insured population, and for the Centre to procure and supply the vaccines.
Companies are right to want to count their Covid-relief expenses as corporate social responsibility (CSR) spends. Some do splendid work. Their contributions to relief funds set up by chief ministers should qualify as CSR, just as their contribution to the PM Cares Fund does.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.