Budget 2018: Healthcare players expect govt to do its homework on GST & better fund allocations

As the union finance ministry gets ready to finalize India’s budget for next one year on 1st February, the healthcare company heads have sought higher focus on revising GST clauses besides improved funding allocations for the sector


New Delhi: The industry expects the government to encourage greater holistic investment in the healthcare sector where funds are prioritised towards research & development, medical institutes which should include partnerships with established academic institutions, and in primary public healthcare centres.

As a solution to some of the issues plaguing the healthcare sector, the experts feel that government has to take on a more techno-administrative approach, part of which could be to create a grievance redressal body for the sector which will create a conducive atmosphere for all stakeholders, amicably resolve issues and also assist in relieving stress on our judicial system.

India needs policies that promote innovation in the industry and drive improvements in India’s healthcare infrastructure to addressing the needs of rare disease patients and other specialized conditions. There is need for programs and innovative Public Private Partnerships (PPP) under country’s National Health Mission 2020 would further support patients and help ensure a Healthy India.

There is also a need for special attention to ignored healthcare areas. For people with rare diseases, the introduction of a new National Rare Disease policy last year was a welcome move. However, more effort is needed to improve access to diagnosis and therapy for these challenging conditions. However, the various disease areas

According to Mr Huzaifa Shehabi – COO, Saifee Hospital, “During the Budget 2018, we are hopeful that the government will continue to carefully examine taxation and pricing policies, to ensure that we strike the right balance between what is feasible for the healthcare sector and what is best for the consumer, to deliver quality healthcare.”

Mr Vineet Singhal, Country Head, Shire India says that he anticipates that the Union Budget 2018 will include significant growth-centric announcements that will further propel India’s economic performance. “The healthcare sector is a key pillar of the socio-economic development of any country. Here in India, current spending in healthcare is about 1.4% of GDP.  An increase in this could substantially improve access to care and treatment for millions of Indians and we are hopeful that increase in healthcare funding will be announced in 2018.,” he said.

Better implementation of GST

According to Ms Ameera Shah, MD & Promoter, Metropolis Healthcare, post introduction of GST, the tax rate on medical devices was pegged at 12%, this, if reduced further can positively affect the overall cost structure thereby providing cost-effective healthcare services to the society. “The last budget had a lot of focus on policy direction and targets for elimination of chronic diseases which is laudable. In addition to increased spending, we also hope that this year’s budget will address the National Health Protection Scheme and set impetus to generate demand for health insurance through additional exemptions,” she mentioned in a pre-budget expectations statement.

Agreeing with her is Dr Dharminder Nagar MD, Paras Healthcare who hopes that healthcare industry would be given some leeway in terms of GST implementation. “This will ensure better services to patients by healthcare providers. This will also result in greater accessibility of care and services by the common man. The government must also come out with clear roadmap to make medical insurance more popular. It must also exclude the medical insurance premium exempt from GST. Given the acute shortage of manpower, there is need to industry representation in central universities and even medical colleges so that healthcare industry can source talent appropriately”, he said.

Strengthening the basic infrastructure

“From Independence, the healthcare sector has got the least priority in every Union Budget,” says Dr S Gurushankar, Chairman, Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, Madurai, Tamil Nadu adding further, “This is inexplicable because a country cannot progress if its people are unhealthy and keep dying for want of basic healthcare. Most of the Indian population lives in rural areas, but it is unfortunate to see that majority of hospitals exist in urban areas. One of the biggest challenges facing our country is the acute shortage of hospital beds in rural areas.”

As per Mr Amit Munjal, Founder and CEO, Doctor Insta, the telemedicine or virtual healthcare market in India has witnessed significant growth, owing to its potential of providing the world class clinical and medical services to distant and rural locations as well as to large cities where People have time constraints and telemedicine provides instant access addressing the health needs anytime, anywhere. “Though, the industry has garnered good support of both the government (SEHAT Program) and private organizations that are investing religiously in telemedicine industry, infrastructure issues still remain an impediment albeit less than earlier in unleashing the growth of this sector. Even though the market is poised for an upswing, it is still currently constrained by the slower than expected adoption and engagement of users.”

“We hope that the Union Budget 2018-19 offers a major relief to the healthcare scenario in our country. While the Government has introduced various amendments in the budget last year there are still persistent issues which should be addressed this year, commented Mr Manish Sacheti, CFO, Ziqitza Healthcare, adding, “With more than 68% of people living in the rural areas, amendments should be made for better public healthcare services in the interiors of the country. Investments should be made in increasing the number of health professionals in the public health sector. Also, very little importance is given to the Emergency Medical Services which plays a crucial part in saving lives of people.”

Higher fund allocations

The National Health Policy, 2017 envisages public expenditure on health to increase to 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in a time bound manner by 2025. In the meantime, the government says it has increased the budget allocations for the health mildly as compared to the last time.The revised estimate for 2016-17 and budget estimate for 2017-18 under National Health Mission are Rs 20,037 crore and Rs 21,940 crore respectively.

Ms Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India believes that for India, the financial year 2017-18 was promising on policy directions for the health sector in general and for family planning in particular. She explains: “The fact that greater investments in health will impact India’s GDP by increasing productivity over the long term is being finally acknowledged by the government, as evident from the stated goal in the new National Health Policy 2017, which envisages increasing public health spending from 1.15% of GDP to 2.5% of GDP by 2025.”

While the union health ministry had earlier signalled that the government funding to healthcare will be increased gradually, it would be interesting to see what does this budget has in the store.