'Modicare': India's PM promises free health care for half a billion

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media at Parliament House in Delhi earlier this year.

(CNN)Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched the world's biggest healthcare program, with the rollout of free coverage for an estimated half a billion of India's poorest citizens ahead of national elections early next year.

The ambitious program, dubbed "Modicare," was unveiled in the federal budget earlier this year and launched at the weekend. It is designed to offer an estimated 100 million "poor and vulnerable" families, or equivalent to an estimated 500 million people, free hospital treatment costs of up to 500,000 rupees ($7,800) per year.
"Such an initiative is unparalleled in terms of scale and extent," Modi tweeted on Sunday. "It shows our unwavering commitment to create a healthy India."
    But while the program has raised hopes for better treatment for India's poorest, critics say the announcement was timed to elicit a pre-election boost and questioned Modi's ability to deliver on his promise.

    A "game changer"

    Research unit Capital Economics said the funds for Modicare are "prohibitively small," observing that only 200 billion rupees, or 0.2% of gross domestic product, have been allocated each year.
    "Better provision of health care can bring several benefits, from both an economic and wider perspective," Capital Economics said in an August 17 note. "But we doubt that Modicare will have much of an impact."
    India spends only about 1% of its GDP on public health.
    If the program is fully taken up, it would co