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Will upcoming budget address the needs of ailing healthcare sector in India?

Adult vaccination, health infrastructure, diagnostics and out of pocket expenditure that have so far been the most ignored areas may get some funds in Budget (AP)Premium
Adult vaccination, health infrastructure, diagnostics and out of pocket expenditure that have so far been the most ignored areas may get some funds in Budget (AP)

A large part of previous budgets was dedicated towards making healthcare cheaper and more accessible, but with the covid-19 pandemic demands increased budget for improving healthcare infrastructure at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and also to propel healthcare sector recovery

COVID-19 pandemic exposing the severe underspending on healthcare in India may lead the sector to receive booster dose in terms of finances in the upcoming budget.

Union government’s stimulus package and PM CARE’s fund allocation to healthcare last year has already indicated that the allocation towards health in the budget would be at the centre stage this fiscal.

Adult vaccination, health infrastructure, diagnostics and out of pocket expenditure that have so far been the most ignored areas, may get some funds for making India more prepared for future pandemics. The public health experts hold major expectation from the health budget. The experts have voiced that more than ever before, the pandemic reiterated the vital importance of a robust healthcare ecosystem and the acute need to strengthen health infrastructure in the country, both that need increased investments and a fertile environment to nurture innovations.

“In battling COVID -19, despite numerous challenges, the private health sector stood firmly with India and now the sector must be supported with farsighted policy interventions that help boost its resilience and sustainability," Preetha Reddy, President NATHEALTH and Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals.

Reddy said that in addition, incentives to create new infrastructure for healthcare services and manufacturing, a 5-year tax holiday for new infrastructure creation, import duty relief for life saving equipment and easing of GST regulations amongst many such initiatives, will all add up to provide gainful employment to millions in the country and also enable India to serve people around the world.

“Likewise, digital healthcare has the inherent potential to improve access to high quality medical care for all and hence, it requires special impetus. The paucity of skilled healthcare resources should also be addressed with forward looking policies," said Reddy.

A large part of previous budgets was dedicated towards making healthcare cheaper and more accessible, but with the covid-19 pandemic demands increased budget for improving healthcare infrastructure at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and also to propel healthcare sector recovery.

“There are indications that the Government is likely to increase healthcare spending in the forthcoming budget announcement. This is most laudable as healthcare is a national priority sector today and we need a dedicated national health fund which can provide all necessary resources and support to fix existing gaps, upgrade healthcare infrastructure, equip district-level hospitals and primary health centres with oxygen supplies, increased beds and medical equipment," Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, Managing Director and CEO, Fortis Healthcare.

“We also need to invest more in medical education and training to address the shortage of healthcare professionals in the country and strengthen the operational modalities to boost digital health and telemedicine services," he said.

With a systematic restructuring of India’s entire healthcare infrastructure already in the works, it is highly likely that the Union Budget 2021 will earmark funds for the growth of telemedicine, which has already proved its mettle during the viral outbreak.

“Schemes like Ayushman Bharat and projects that are being initiated under the National Digital Health Mission are painting a promising picture that the Modi government is dedicated towards taking specialist medical care to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Preferential policies and adequate financing will support research and technological innovations, paving the way for a more agile healthcare ecosystem in the country," said Shashank ND, CEO and CO-founder, Practo.

India has also been looking at atmanirbhar bharat scheme in various sectors including medical devices and exports of the medical equipment, covid-19 vaccines and ayurvedic products.

“Given the rapid technological evolution of medical sciences, access and availability of quality and affordable medical devices are very critical. Hence, the budget 2021 must rationalize the tax liability on the sector to promote availability of affordable care, facilitate Make in India for Atmanirbhar Bharat and encourage exports in the sector to be able to contribute effectively to the economy," said Shravan Subramanyam, President & CEO, GE Healthcare, South Asia..

Currently, India spends 1.15% of the GDP on health. For meeting sustainable development goals (SDGs), India needs to step up public funding for ensuring successful implementation of the National Health Policy (2017). To reach the stated goal of 2.5% of GDP as public financing for health by 2025 from the present 1%, union budgets from now on have to allocate more funds for health in each annual budget. The health budgets in recent years have witnessed a marginal increase. In 2019-20 the health budget was 64,559 crores, in 208-19 it was 55,959 crore (revised estimate), while 48,853 crore was allocated for health in 2017-18.

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