Union Budget 2021-22
Authored Article by
Mr. Gandharv Roy, COO, Medica Group of Hospitals
It took a COVID 19 and the obliteration of 154K of the populace from India between March 2020 – Feb 2021,to mark the first day of February, to earmark Healthcare sector as an utmost priority, for the nation’s well-being. Ever since Independence the healthcare sector has been lurching under abject obliviousness towards primary, secondary or tertiary care albeit not attainingprecedence over any other fiscal reforms. For a country with 135 billion inhabitants, the abysmal spending and allocation over the years questioned the very maxim ‘Health is Wealth’.
When COVID 19 hit the Indian economy and set the graph southward, budget 2021-22 finally made it the most substantial area of discourse, a narrative which we have been advocating for the last few generations. The sparse funding and nonchalance towards the voices of the industry was difficult to endure. Owing to the pandemic, it might have finally dawned upon policymakers to outlay an amount of INR 2,23,846 crores, which is a substantial increase over the last year’s budget. This was indeed the need of the hour and has earned a round of applause from the innumerable frontline healthcare professionals who readily gave up their lives to save millions and also underscores the achievement of scientists, both of who often fought tirelessly in spite of being ostracized from society and finally created history by developing not one but two vaccines ‘Made in India’ when other developed countries are still battling the menace.
The current spending of India in the healthcare domain remains 1.6% of the GDP while the government’s own National Health Policy 2017 envisages increasing the health budget to 2.5%. Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier proposed to increase health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2025 from the existing 1.15%, but the health sector has always received insignificant funding year after year. However, the creation of the Aatmanirbhar Health Yojana, which has been allocated INR 64,180 Crore is a welcome move.The allocation towards government’s flagship health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharatremained unchanged at INR 6,400 crores which still needs further allocation to minimize out of pocket expenses which have driven several towards poverty during the pandemic. We know that a nations needs a healthy population to prosper. Stepping up our investment in public healthcare is pivotal to sustaining India’s economic growth in the long term and ensuring that our population can live longer, healthier lives.
Though the budget estimate 2021-22 for health and well-being is pegged at INR 2,23,846 crores compared to INR 94,452 crores in the current fiscalthe amount also includes budget for schemes from other ministries along with ministry of health and family welfare such as POSHAN 2.0 Abhiyan under Women and Child Development ministry, Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) under department of Water and Sanitation and one of the most silent epidemic pollution.
It certainly augurs well for the overall wellness of the countryand addressesthe unacceptably high mortality rate among children.The provision of INR 35,000 crore for COVID vaccination might be insufficient to ensure free, universal and timely vaccination but the notionas stated by Hon’ble Finance Minister for further provision is encouraging. The allocation for National Health Mission, however, has witnessed a 4.4% increase. We expected some announcement on minimum wagesand insurance for all frontline health workers which unfortunately was not outlaid in the speech.
With mission ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’some announcement regarding reduction on import duty for healthcare equipment would have reduced the burden on the end consumer.Overall the budget addresses specific allocation towards healthcare delivery, with the incorporation of 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban health and wellness centres, the need to reach the last mile population is ably supported.Upskilling of healthcare personnel, infrastructural developments, and a special focus on innovations in healthcare by supporting start-ups in this field shows that Government has focussed on health and well-being, infrastructural reforms, development of human capital and minimum government and maximum governance.
The government could, therefore, startspending on expanding medical capacities and modernising digital infrastructure to support medical data storage, management and more. In addition, more funds may be allocated for medical research and development to aid drug discovery as it is time for being ‘Vocal for Local’.The resolution to set up integrated public health labs in each district about 3,382 block public health units in 11 states is noteworthy. Establishing critical care blocks in Hospitals is essential from our learning from the recent pandemic and a right move by the Government. Overall the proposals made in the Budget 21-22, would make quality healthcare accessible and affordable, besides standardizing healthcare infrastructure across the country. We await the on ground implementation and operational details of the scheme now.