By Suneeta Reddy, MD, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise
Amidst growing concerns of a further slowdown in the economy, finance minister Arun Jaitley presented a transformative Budget, which is poised to address both short-term as well as long-term goals of the nation. He addressed the key issues that would help strengthen the foundational framework of the economy, i.e. agriculture, health and education.
The government has allocated Rs 36,000 crore for agriculture and farmer welfare, and R1.5 lakh crore for the social sector, which includes education and healthcare. To improve and deepen healthcare access, the minister has announced a new health protection scheme to provide insurance cover up to R1 lakh per family with a top-up option of up to R30,000 for senior citizens. He announced the expansion of the Jan Aushadhi Yojana, under which 3,000 more drug stores will be opened to provide generic medicines at affordable prices. To assist the vast population battling renal diseases, the government announced its plan to launch the National Dialysis Services Programme under the National Health Mission through the PPP model.
In a first-of-its-kind, health was given greater priority in the Budget, which reaffirms that the government is cognisant of the acute need to bridge the health infrastructure gap in the country. Every $1 invested in the healthcare sector translates into generating $4 in its ancillary sectors by fostering employment, thereby creating a positive ripple effect in the economy.
Nevertheless, India has come a long way in terms of improving the health of its citizens. In just three decades, the country has added about 11 years to the average life expectancy at birth—raising it from only 55 years in 1980 to 66 years in 2013. The private healthcare sector has been an active contributor in this journey; it also addresses nearly 60% of the nation’s healthcare needs.
The National Health Mission provides free healthcare across urban and rural India through a nationwide network of health centres. However, the infrastructure gap remains huge, which today stands at about 5 lakh beds. The WHO has mandated standards of care as number of hospitals and medical beds per 1,000 population. India falls short of these standards and needs investments to the tune of $50 billion to meet them. This calls for not just a massive increase in public funding, but also a functional and enabling ecosystem to create and sustain the required physical and access infrastructure.
Deepening access drives demand, and the Budget announcement to provide universal healthcare access is a good step towards demand creation and thereby creating the needed health infrastructure.
Great healthcare delivery makes eminent economic sense. We laud the government for the steps it is taking in the direction.