A Healthier India – A Vision to Make our People our Defining Strength

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In managing the grimmest crisis of the era, when compared to several western nations, many who spend double digit percentages of GDP on health, India fared very well. Millions of lives were saved with innovative actions plans, exemplary collaboration and partnerships. The frontline teams have been working tirelessly and their example will inspire generations to come.

Now acting upon the learnings from the crisis, a definitive need of the hour and the expectation from the Union Budget 2022- 2023 is that it turns the spotlight on healthcare and accords it the infrastructure status.   

Union Budget 2021 gave rise to hope with health expenditure being explicitly linked to health and well-being. With an increase in the allocation for health by 137% per cent to Rs. 2.23 lakh crore from the previous year, the budget last year clubbed expenditure on drinking water, sanitation and nutrition under health and wellness, underlining the importance of a holistic approach to health. 

Now as we move to a post pandemic era, we must think about the magical transformation that India can usher in by increasing its spending on public healthcare by doubling or ideally tripling its spends by 2025. This increase will contribute greatly to strengthening primary & preventive healthcare and also to avert innumerable non-communicable diseases with empowerment, education and widespread inoculation. Therefore, the health sector and India is hopeful that good health for citizens will take priority again and the Budget charts a clear roadmap towards building a healthier India and making our 1.34 billion plus citizens, our foremost strength!

One of the key learnings in the last 24 months has been the need for both the public and private sectors to invest more in health care infrastructure. The budget must use the opportunity to provide a much-needed stimulus for the private sector in the form of attractive tax benefits to invest in building hospitals in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as well as build well-equipped and digitally connected health centres in small towns and rural areas. 

The pandemic also exposed the vulnerabilities of our elder population. As the quality of healthcare leads to an increase in longevity, elder and senior care need lot more attention. The Budget should make adequate provisions for a support system for India’s ageing population. 

According the priority status will help the health sector derive benefit from the GST transition and providers and healthcare service delivery institutions can avail loans at lower rates and extended tenure. The ease of doing business should translate into rationalisation of GST and correction of the prevailing inverted duty structure through end-user based exemptions, all which make care models viable for all.

Our success in the research and development of an indigenous vaccine for COVID has shown the power of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat and this needs to be expanded and strengthened to cover both manufacturing and innovation. The Budget should include a ‘Medical Innovation Fund’ to promote research, app development, devices etc.

COVID-19 also exposed the need to make health insurance affordable and bring more people into the healthcare net. The budget must take care of the over 80 cr. citizens who are not covered by PM-JAY, and face an increased burden of medical expenses. The quantum of insurance coverage is inadequate in most cases leading to huge out-of-pocket expenses. A form of mandatory health insurance for all private-sector employees and an enhancement of deduction for medical insurance premium u/s 80D will help in addressing this lacuna. 

With the gap in demand and availability of skilled healthcare workers, training and skilling needs to get adequate importance with a national policy in place. This is a key area that the budget needs to address so that the manpower challenge is addressed over time with India comping up to par with the recommended ratio in terms of trained doctors and nurses. The Government should look at opening more medical colleges and nurses training institutes to get in more resources, especially from the tier-II and III centres. A policy for a PPO model in health education would help boost the ramp-up in the healthcare workers to population ratio. The huge amount of land in the public sector undertakings can be used to set up such institutes. 

It is clear now that the world will have to learn to live with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its emerging variants if the global economy is to return to its path of normal growth. We must take advantage of the opportunity that Budget 2022 affords and put thought into action. This is our chance and we must grab it with both hands to position and brand India as a leader in global healthcare!



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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