The Budget session of the Parliament will commence on January 29 with the presentation of Economic Survey. As the countdown for the Union Budget 2021-22 has begun, discussions over the sector-wise allocation have again taken centre stage in the national discourse.
Meanwhile, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sector which is the biggest talking point this year is healthcare. Experts have predicted that the allocation for healthcare sector in the Union Budget 2021-22 is likely to go up by 40 per cent. However, we will have to wait for Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to make the announcement on Monday, February 1.
Before getting to the expectations from the Union Budget for the healthcare sector this year, it is of paramount importance to understand that it has been one of the most neglected sectors irrespective of the political parties in power.
Despite an increase in health expenditure over the last few years, India’s overall spending on the health sector is "low" and the situation must be "corrected", said Niti Aayog Member (Health) V.K. Paul in 2019. In 2018-19, India’s spending on health sector was 1.5% of GDP, somewhat an improvement over the last decade, he added.
If we consider the previous budget, Rs 69,000 crore were allocated to the healthcare sector in Union Budget 2020-21. In 2019-20, the Finance Minister had announced a Rs 62,659.12 crore outlay for the healthcare sector. Looking at the trend, healthcare sector allocation in Union Budget 2021-22 will certainly go up. However, it needs be a substantial increase.
According to a Sunday Guardian report, India is among the countries having the lowest public healthcare budget in the world, with the public healthcare system in the country merely getting 1.26% of the total GDP. In comparison, countries like United Kingdom, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Finland and Australia spend over 9% of their total GDP on public healthcare, whereas Japan, Canada, France, Germany and Switzerland spend about 10%. United States spends over 16% of their GDP in public healthcare. "Even neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan spend over 3% of their GDP going towards public healthcare system," the report adds.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has aimed to raise the country's expenditure on public health services to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2025. However, it is still a long way to go.
"The public spend in healthcare needs to increase from the current 1.2 per cent to at least 2.5 per cent of GDP in the next 3 years, much of which should be invested in creating and modernising our infrastructure. Hopefully, the budget for 2021-22 would take the important first step towards this," Manipal Hospitals MD & CEO Dilip Jose told PTI.
Rapid and proactive actions of the government and the tireless efforts of healthcare workers helped the country navigate the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it exposed the chinks in the healthcare system, and highlighted the need for a major infrastructure revamp, he added.
Highlighting the expectations from the budget, Metropolis Healthcare Promoter & MD Ameera Shah said, "The lack of adequate public health infrastructure in India combined with a high out-of-pocket expenditure imposes a high financial burden on Indian households and therefore increasing the healthcare budget allocation in the coming decade is of utmost importance".
The need of the hour is to strengthen the provisioning of healthcare services through public-private partnerships, she added.
"While the healthcare segment has been a key focus area and part of country's development plan through various comprehensive initiatives including Swachh Bharat, Ayushman Bharat, National Digital Health Mission and now 'Mission COVID Suraksha', the long-term response to the virus needs a significant part of budget allocation," SRL Diagnostics CEO Anand K said.