As the nation looks forward to the Union Budget 2018, there is a lot of anticipation, especially from the healthcare sector. The healthcare sector is poised for an eventful 2018, as medical and pharmaceutical firms await key policy announcements.
Various initiatives under the National Health Policy 2017 have helped the larger strata of the Indian population to access medical services at affordable prices. It is also encouraging to see that the policy enables to expand preventive healthcare services to a large number of people. Additionally, there is a renewed focus on sourcing of care from the private sector and making it more accessible to all individuals.
GST being exempted from the healthcare sector is a good move. However, for the end-consumer, the costs could rise, given the increase in input costs as proposed by it. Under GST, the tax rate for the medical device sector was pegged at 12%, which could affect the overall cost structure of the healthcare sector. The government should take a re-look at this segment to ensure that the ultimate objective of providing affordable healthcare services to the vast population is achieved.
The government should find ways to cover the uncovered population under health insurance i.e. National Health Protection Scheme. It should also set impetus to generate demand for health insurance through additional exemptions. Another aspect of the budget should be to allocate funds for early diagnosis and primary health centers. This is something that needs immediate attention. The sector also expects announcements for increased public-private partnership investment in healthcare, for a broader and more comprehensive medical system.
Another critical announcement may be in the space of Non-Communicable Diseases which accounts for 60% of disease burden in the country.
Overall, the budget should have a policy direction to address some of the critical challenges facing the health sector. Additionally, health budget has always been viewed in isolation. To achieve the goal of universal healthcare by 2030, it is important that health is viewed as critical not just by the Health Ministry, but is a priority for all ministries. Quality of breathing air, safe drinking water and sanitation are important to maintain a safe and healthy environment for one and all.