The Union Budget 2016-17 will be proposed today by the Finance Minister before the Indian Parliament. As many critical questions are currently being raised about the real health of the Indian economy, across the globe, the Union Finance Minister shoulders an onerous task to address all those apprehensions, beyond any further doubt.
Yesterday, in his monthly radio program ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Modi himself said, “Budget 2016 is my exam, 125 crore people will test me.” A large section of people also would probably view Union Budget 2016-17 in a similar way.
That said, we all know, that the system or the process of annual Union Budget presentation before the Parliament need not be considered as the primary platform to announce various policies of the Government to propel economic growth of the nation. Nevertheless, it certainly underscores the key focus areas, where the Government would prefer deploying country’s financial and other resources, through appropriate budgetary allocations, to effectively meet the key short and long term national goals.
Simultaneously, of course, the Finance Minister would also explain the measures that he proposes for raising the required wherewithal for the same.
The Economic Survey report 2015-16:
The Economic Survey report of the Government for 2015-16, tabled before the Parliament on February 26, 2016, reiterates a grim healthcare situation in India, for a vast majority of its citizens.
The report also underscores, that the average cost of treatment in private hospitals, excluding child birth, is currently about four times than that of public healthcare facilities. This alarming situation, fueled by the meager public health infrastructure in the country, severely limits healthcare access to many in the country. Its primary reason being, a large number of Indians are unable to incur so high out of pocket health expenditure.
A situation like this, brings to the fore the challenges that India faces in providing affordable and accessible healthcare to all those who need it most, the Survey document commented.
Thus, with limited resources and competing demands in the health sector, it is essential for the government to prioritize its expenditure in the sector, the report recommends.
Healthcare deserves a priority focus:
Healthcare, I believe, is one such domain that has been attracting a priority focus in all the developed and a large number of developing nations, since long. In this critical area, however, various national Governments in India have been just expressing its laudable intents, over a period of time. Unfortunately, no political dispensation, so far, has implemented anything hugely impactful to make its citizens feel a huge difference in this critical area, especially, by translating the promised intents into reality and keeping the nose to the grindstone.
Besides many other robust reasons, commercially too, the Indian healthcare industry is one of the largest growing sectors contributing around 10 percent of the GDP, employing around 4 million people.
Today is the D-Day for the Financial Year 2016-17. We shall get to know soon, in which direction would public healthcare go, as we step into another brand new financial year, and in the third Union Budget of the Government in power.
On December 7, 2015, I wrote an article in this Blog on this issue, titled, “Healthcare: My Expectations From Union Budget (2016-17)”.
My expectations on healthcare budget allocations:
In the above article, I articulated my overall expectations on the allocations for healthcare in 2016-17 Union Budget proposals, as follows:
- Increase total public health expenditure from the current 1.2 percent to at least 2.0 percent of the GDP and then raise it 2.5 percent over a period of next three years.
- The main source of financing for public health should remain general taxation by levying ‘Health Cess’, quite in line with with ‘Swachh Bharat Cess’ at the rate of 0.5 percent on all taxable services, besides adding a similar tax on non-essential and luxury items.
Primary focus areas:
If something similar to the above budgetary provision is made for public health in India, the details would require to be worked out, if not done already, in the following five primary focus areas, as I envisage:
A. Infrastructure and capacity building:
- Focused and well-identified investments in building high quality public health infrastructure and well-skilled human resources for rural India on priority.
- Villages, based on population, would be identified by the respective State Governments.
B. Increasing access to quality public healthcare:
- Free universal access to primary care services to start with, across the country,
- Free drugs, free diagnostics and free emergency care services in all public hospitals of the country and for all.
- Free emergency response and patient-transport systems across the country, for all.
C. Strengthening the supply chain:
- Quality drug and diagnostics procurement system by the Central Medical Services Society (CMSS) of the Government needs to be modernized, strengthened and made more efficient with real time data, for easy availability of all required drugs and diagnostics in all public hospitals at the right time and in the right quantity.
- Today, a large number of life saving drugs and diagnostics is highly temperature sensitive. Thus, adequate cold chain facilities are to be created right from transportation to storage in public hospitals for all such products, maintaining their required efficacy and safety standards for patients.
D. Increasing awareness for disease prevention:
- Intensive multi-pronged, multi-channel and door to door campaigns by the para-medics to increase awareness for identified disease prevention.
E. Performance incentive:
- To achieve the desired level of success and increase the motivation level in a sustainable way, budgetary provisions to be made for a system of well-structured individual and team performance incentive scheme, when the key implementers exceed expectations by achieving the set goals well before schedule.
- Commensurate punitive measures for failure also to be put in place, simultaneously.
I shall not broach upon the area of Research and Development (R&D) for drugs and diagnostics here, as that could probably be considered in a holistic way under overall innovation, science and technology budget allocation required for the country, as a whole.
February 29, 2016 is the moment of truth, of yet another year-long expectation in the key focus areas of the Government for resource mobilization and its meaningful deployment.
It is worth noting, however, that the much awaited “National Health Policy” has not been put in place before the Union Budget 2016-17, which could have given an indication to all, about the road map that the Government intends to follow in the healthcare domain of India.
Thus, it is possibly too late now to identify the specific health projects based on majority of citizen’s immediate health needs, from a well-articulated Health Policy for the country. Consequently, charting an action plan for joint implementation by the Central and the State Governments in unison, and making budgetary provisions accordingly for this year, to start with, may not just be feasible.
In the above situation, despite the recommendations of ‘The Economic Survey report 2015-16’, we may, at best see in today’s Union Budget, some ad hoc measures in this space. In any case discussing all these at this hour would just be a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, like many persons, I too keep my fingers crossed.
In any case, we all shall get to know today, the Finance Minister’s comprehensive budgetary proposals for this year, including healthcare. Till then, at least for 2016-17, the same question will keep haunting: Healthcare In India: Whither Goest Thou?
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.