As the Nation looks forward to the Union Budget 2017, there is a lot of hope and anticipation especially for healthcare, which needs to be viewed as a national priority, given its strategic role in building the backbone of the country.
While it is true that budget allocation for the health sector has increased progressively from 0.9% of total GDP, to about 1.3%, we still have a long way to go. In India, the double burden of disease are exacerbating factors. While cancer, diabetes and cardiac diseases affect more and more people each year, seasonal ailments and communicable diseases continue to exert pressure on our already challenged resources. We continue to have the largest number of infant deaths, maternal deaths and tuberculosis cases in the world. India is also the oral cancer and diabetes capital of the world. Our primary health centres and Government hospitals are severely short staffed and challenged in terms of beds, equipment and medicines. On the other hand, private sector facilities, largely in the specialist and super specialist segment, continue to grow and are recognized as amongst the best in the world. The budget needs to address the entire healthcare delivery spectrum with enhanced allocations for the treatment of chronic diseases such as cancers, heart diseases, malnutrition and diabetes.
A preferred status to the sector must be accorded with matching tax incentives for capital expenditure and a ten-year tax holiday for new and existing hospitals undergoing an upgrade or expansion.
The availability of qualified Medical personnel in adequate numbers remains a challenge. Feasible and realistic guidelines to involve private capital in the establishment of medical and nursing colleges to bridge this vital skill gap, are therefore necessary. There is also need to incentivize industry to invest more in capacity building for medical staff.
In this age of tech-enabled healthcare, it is also important to link initiatives such as Digital India not only to allocate funds and monitor utilization but also to maintain health records and study health trends.
The much-awaited GST, unifying a plethora of taxes must be implemented speedily. Continued exemption under the future GST scheme must be factored to galvanize significant investment for the creation of healthcare infrastructure. With prices in check, assistance for hospital inputs like expensive medical equipment and consumables is needed so the feasibility of running medical services is safeguarded.
One strategy to tackle the shortage in healthcare infrastructure is to promote public private partnerships so that the access to quality and affordable healthcare increases for the people.
Post demonetization, the time is right to incentivize medical insurance so that penetration from its low current base, increases exponentially. Convenient payment options at Hospitals must be enabled so that a wider cross-section of patients can easily access high quality medical services.
As they say health is truly wealth and we must do all that is possible to keep our people productive, healthy and disease free.
The author, Mr Bhavdeep Singh is the CEO, Fortis Healthcare Ltd.