Budget 2018: This Budget confirms the government is serious about tacking healthcare needs. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that only a healthy India can move the needle and make it the world’s fifth-largest economy. In a single move, India has created the world’s largest public health programme; it tops even the US Medicaid. Effectively, this initiative, which amounts to $800 billion, will cover 40% of India’s population. This is path-breaking and heartening. The payer problem demanded urgent attention and the government has paid heed. If the flagship National Health Protection Scheme to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families with up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation is properly implemented and monitored, we would have taken an important step towards creating a Swasth Bharat. Now is the time for the private sector to partner with the government in building an economically-viable product. We, at Apollo, would be privileged to play the part in making this scheme an outstanding success, so that in the years to come we can move towards universal health coverage.
The intention to upgrade 24 district hospitals into new government medical colleges and the announcement to spend Rs 1,200 crore to set up 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres providing comprehensive healthcare—non-communicable diseases (NCDs), maternal and child services, free drugs and diagnostics—will strengthen healthcare substantially. Let us not forget the standard deduction of Rs 40,000 for salaried employees and pensioners in lieu of transport and medical expenses. This will provide a welcome relief. The increase in deduction for health insurance premiums and critical illnesses for senior citizens shows that the government has taken cognisance of the needs of an ageing population. Tuberculosis, or TB, has been a growing burden in India, with statistics indicating 2.79 million cases in 2016. The fact that a large number of India’s population is undernourished is well established and these are the people who are most vulnerable to developing TB. By allocating Rs 600 crore on nutrition for TB patients, the government is attempting to address the last-mile problem by taking such measures.
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A lot of what matters in health is also linked with proper sanitation and infrastructure development. To this effect, the government has identified as many as 115 aspirational districts under the consideration set to improve the quality of life by investing in social services including health, education, nutrition, skills upgrade and financial inclusion. The government also announced setting up of 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres, which will be imperative in addressing the healthcare accessibility problem that our country is facing, especially in non-metro regions. Maternal and child health and NCDs are the two very specific health concerns that are aimed to be addressed through this step. However, what is important to note is the sustenance of these centres in providing the quality of care that is needed.
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Another challenge that needed immediate attention was that of a skilled manpower. A considerable boost to medical education was the need of the hour in aligning itself to the skill-set requirements. Upgrading existing district hospitals in the country to create 24 new government hospitals is a welcome step. This would ensure that there is at least one medical college for every three Parliamentary constituencies, and at least one government medical college in each state of the country. While all this is commendable, the most important question that comes to mind is: How is the government looking to execute all this? Every sector is adopting technology for better efficiency and outcomes. The government, too, should consider going highly digital in implementing these proposals. In fact, by doing that, it will not only ensure transparency and avoid corruption, but will also lead to better healthcare outcomes and a sustained healthcare programme. With artificial intelligence, analytics, automated systems and more such evolving technologies, identifying beneficiaries and ruling out scope for error and subjectivity can definitely be addressed.
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After many years, a Union Budget has given its due focus to the healthcare sector. Healthcare is a far higher priority for the country than most of us realise—the sector bears the ultimate responsibility for lives and good health, and thus productivity and happiness of our populace. This heavy responsibility cannot be borne by the government alone. Uncompromising standards of quality, and a vibrant private sector, are important elements of a comprehensive healthcare policy. Private sector today is very well equipped to partner with the government in realising the effectiveness of these programmes. All these steps, taken together, herald a new era in healthcare and we are greatly excited and eager to play our part in this important transformation.
MD, Apollo Hospitals