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Home / Budget 2019 / Budget Expectations /  Budget allocation for healthcare needs to go up: Apollo Hospitals' Suneeta Reddy

A healthy India is the first priority for all of us. For this Union Budget, the first ask we have is for the allocation to healthcare to go up. The Government has promised 2.5% in the National Health Policy, and that is what we will hope for.

We would also like to see some acknowledgement of the sector as infrastructure, which will open up other sources of low-cost funding for us.

An important pillar of healthcare service delivery is Access. World over, insurance models have been found to be very effective mechanisms for improving access to quality care. Currently, only around 4% of the population in India have health insurance coverage. This has led to a situation where out of pocket healthcare spending constitutes 86% of total healthcare spends in India. As far as access is concerned, while Ayushman Bharat has covered 50 crore people (of which 10 crore have been enrolled), we do have very low insurance penetration within the other, affordable segments. We would wish for a tiered insurance program to be put in place – for e.g. employers being mandated to provide meaningful cover for their employees; mandatory health insurance for self-employed professionals; affordable healthcare policies for elders (to cover specific risks arising from vulnerabilities of old age) and then back that all up with an increase in deduction u/s 80D upto 50,000 and a similar deduction for dependent parents.

What the country needs now is investment in bed capacity. The Private health sector should be incentivised to do so. A scheme on the lines of the erstwhile 35AD scheme would be welcome, to re-energise private investment.

It is also necessary to give incentives for investment in the latest medical technologies such as Proton Therapy in which we have invested over Rs. 1300 cr. and which is the first in South East Asia. A Healthcare Infrastructure Technology Upgradation Fund that would provide subsidies for capital investment undertaken in upgradation of healthcare infrastructure is the need of the hour in the face of high costs impacting new investment.

We look forward to the budget giving more incentives to hospitals to invest and develop Medical Value Travel, and to exempt foreign exchange earnings. MVT can create lakhs of jobs and bring in foreign exchange. We hope the Government can create a level playing field with healthcare providers in other Asian countries who enjoy preferential tax regimes and various concessions. In fact, We are happy that the Government has identified it as a Champion Service Sector, and it definitely has potential to benefit the country.

The most important vertical in healthcare today is the Preventive Health Vertical. The preventive health check is one of the most powerful tools we have as we take the fight to Non-Communicable Diseases. Recognising this, the Union Budget should consider a separate deduction of Rs. 10,000 for each individual with respect to preventive health checks. We also look forward to hearing the Government’s plan to operationalise 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres throughout the country.

We all keep hearing that data is the new oil. Especially in health, data can provide remarkable insights and solutions, prognoses, diagnoses and cures that were impossible to imagine even a decade ago. Healthcare providers such as ourselves, are investing a lot of resources into mining the wealth of intelligence that health data can provide, especially focused on the Indian demographic. We could do a lot more, and faster, if we could have a focused R&D incentive, which rewards those companies that invest in finding patterns, markers and cures, and makes data work for India. Hospitals should be enabled to invest in Research by introducing a 250% tax deduction.

As we journey along the path to Universal Healthcare and how it is a long and arduous course to get there, we must not forget that with our population, there are 1.3 billion reasons why things can happen. 1.3 billion minds and hearts that can ideate and find solutions, recognizing that in fact, the future is within us.

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