Budget 2018 focuses on making healthcare more accessible: Experts

As per experts, the fresh investment in healthcare delivery infrastructure and medical education are welcome developments, given that healthcare education and delivery need to be efficient for insurance outlays to be used optimally


New Delhi: Finance Minister announced two major initiatives under the Ayushman Bharat Program in the Union Budget 2018 catering to primary, secondary and tertiary care. One, with the National Health Policy announced last year, the Government proposed establishment of 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres with an aim to provide comprehensive care to the people for treatment and diagnostics for NCDs as well as Maternal and Child Health.

The government committed ₹1200 crore for this flagship programme. Government also invited contribution from the private sector as a part of their CSR mandate for adoption of these Wellness and Health Centres. And two, the National Health Protection Scheme – with an aim of reaching to about 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, the government plans to reach out to approximately 50 crore beneficiaries, providing up to ₹ 5 lakh health insurance cover per family per year. This will include Secondary and Tertiary Care.

Mr Shireesh Sahai, CEO, Wolters Kluwer India said, “The announcement of the Ayushman Bharat Programme is a bold and ambitious move in the right direction. Once rolled out, it will hasten India’s progress towards achieving universal health coverage for all. Fresh investment in healthcare delivery infrastructure and medical education are also welcome developments, given that healthcare education and delivery need to be efficient for insurance outlays to be used optimally. The increase in medical colleges will hopefully change our presently skewed doctor-patient ratio.

He said further, “India must now consider the use of adaptive learning and mobile-based learning technologies in medical education, which will help our medical practitioners make the most of the latest developments in medicine and use global best practices to improve healthcare delivery in India. We look forward to partnering with the government in implementing these transformative programmes in India.”

The government further announced doubling of funding to ₹3073 crore for digital technology, artificial intelligence, block chain technology, big data, robotics that would encourage and further spur a growth of the startup ecosystem in the country.

Commenting on the healthcare budget and the allocation of INR 1200 crore towards Health and Wellness Centres that will provide comprehensive health care, including for non-communicable diseases, Abhishek Shah, Co-Founder of Wellthy Therapeutics said, “This step will significantly help in combatting one of the biggest challenges in healthcare in India today, which is the rising burden of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease contribute to 61% of all mortalities every year in our country, and the WHO estimates that these will cost India almost $5 trillion dollars by 2030. This budgetary allocation for the prevention and treatment non-communicable diseases will be a critical step to stem the tide now.”

“Furthermore, the launch of the National Health Protection Scheme is another vital move for achieving universal healthcare in India. In the last decade, we have watched our neighbor, China, successfully expand its UHC from a negligible number to 900 million citizens (95% coverage). A 5 lakh benefit/family for both primary and secondary healthcare, as long as its covering the wide range of healthcare issues and costs that it promises to be, is a huge boost by the government to provide the necessary impetus for India to achieve that rate of coverage,” added Mr Shah.

While the health budget has increased by 12 percent this year over last year, that still amounts to only 1.15% of GDP, say the experts.

India has the second largest population in the world and carries one-fifth of the disease burden. For us to further strengthen our health systems and provide affordable and accessible care to all, the healthcare budget needs a larger portion of the pie. This budget is indicative that we are headed in the right direction but need to accelerate our efforts.