By Anurag Khosla
In the past two years ravaged by the pandemic, the healthcare sector has been at the center of many things. From an overwhelming number of patients to a plethora of innovations, government initiatives, vaccination drive, and finally the ray of hope to end the pandemic, the healthcare sector saw it all. Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of the healthcare systems across the world against anything as critical and as global as the coronavirus. Nevertheless, due to the timely interventions from the government and the private sector and the hard work of the professionals, the healthcare sector emerged triumphant against the pandemic. However, the sector had to pay a heavy price for the win.
In the previous budget, the government of India paid special attention to the healthcare sector and came up with several new programs and increased budgetary allocations for the sector. Prompted by several new developments, prevailing market scenarios, public perception, fear of new coronavirus variants, and several other factors, the healthcare sector is looking at the Union budget 2022 with great expectations and aspirations. Some of the expectations of the sector from the upcoming budget would be:
Allocating higher budget to the sector
In the previous budget, the total allocation for the healthcare sector stood around INR 223846. This year, the sector is expecting somewhere between a 10 and 15 percent hike in this budget. This is one of the basic demands for the sector and considering the size of the Indian population and the impact of the pandemic on the sector, this demand is justified.
Reduction on the GST on healthcare products
India boasts of one of the most extensive healthcare sectors in the world, however affordable healthcare is still a challenge. Healthcare needs to be affordable for it to reach every Indian. Therefore, one of the foremost expectations of the sector would be to reduce the GST on healthcare products. If possible, the healthcare products should be brought to the lowest bracket of GST.
The reduction of GST on health insurance would encourage more people to go for it. Considering the events of the past 24 months, the need for health insurance for the masses cannot be discounted.
Easing the norms of FDI in the healthcare sector
The healthcare sector is going through revolutionary changes. This revolution needs to be fed with capital to keep up the momentum. Easing the norms of raising funds and FDI will act as a tonic to the healthcare sector itching to expand its wings.
Provisions for disaster preparedness
The catastrophic impact of Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of the world against the wrath of nature. It is not the first time that something like Coronavirus has overwhelmed the world and it is perhaps not the last. The healthcare sector expects the government to allocate funds and make programs for further research and preparedness for any such future event.
Aggressive planning and investment in the National Digital Health Mission
The NDHM can be the backbone of India’s healthcare sector in near future. The sector expects that there will be further planning and aggressive investments in the mission in this budget too. For this mission to succeed, the government needs to invest heavily in creating digital infrastructure in the country.
Support to the start-ups
Start-ups are playing and will continue to play a significant role in spreading the roots of healthcare in the country, especially in Tier 2 & Tier 3 cities and rural areas. However, for the start-ups to keep emerging and flourishing, support from the government is extremely important. Subsidies, interest-free loans, and tax holidays are some of the schemes that the government could announce in the upcoming budget. Further increasing the turnover limit from 100 crores to 150 crores to fall under the start-up category would be another welcome move.
Encourage the use of technology
The 21st century is all about digital technologies. The healthcare sector is no exception. The healthcare players expect the government to incentivize the use of technologies in the sector. New technologies can make healthcare more accurate, affordable and increase its penetration, however, it requires capital to develop or acquire new technology. The healthcare sector expects the budget to have provisions for tax exemptions and reduced import duties for modern healthcare technologies.
(The author is CEO, vHealth by Aetna. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)