This year’s Budget comes at a time when we head into a new decade and there are high expectations for a certain paradigm shift in healthcare services across the country. It is important to strengthen the infrastructure, capacity and financing for the healthcare sector while envisaging a complete overhaul of the sector in a way that will expand its scope and scale.
India has one of the lowest spending on healthcare globally. So, it is more important than ever now to revitalise the public health system to ensure access, outcome, quality and affordability. The focus must be on finding solutions, which are affordable, scalable and yet high quality.
A main focus in Budget 2020 must be given to transforming the home healthcare industry. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — or chronic diseases — are presently a challenge for India’s health sector since they are increasing at an alarming rate. These are diseases of long duration and generally slow in progression. Unlike the largely short-term effects of communicable diseases, the dual health and economic impacts of non-communicable diseases on individuals, families and households are both devastating and long-lasting. The ratio of hospital beds to the number of patients is low. Focus is required on developing home healthcare which can address the gap in hospital beds and patients by offering care for terminally ill patients at home in a hospital-like setting.
Home healthcare is also currently not recognized as a mainstream sector. If this sector is brought under government schemes like the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, there can be an increase in the limits on reimbursement of expenses on diagnostics, preventive health check-ups, etc.
The government needs to promise comprehensive primary care that has continuity with higher levels, improved access and affordability of services through a combination of public hospitals and strategic purchasing of services from the private health sector. The most crucial element for the implementation of the budget is a strong public health infrastructure. While there was a commitment to increase the healthcare spending to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025, as of now it still remains at 1%. This requires some attention in Budget 2020.
The preventive health check-up segment also requires some attention. Currently, preventive health check-ups account for less than 10% of the total market and this segment is witnessing a CAGR of 20%. The government needs to increase the tax exemption on preventive health check-up from the current Rs. 5,000 per person to Rs. 20,000 under section 80-D of Income Tax Act 1961. This will encourage more people to go for health check-ups.
As technology is making great inroads in all sectors including healthcare, this year’s Budget will have to bring a mindset shift by identifying healthcare as an important pillar in improving both quality of life and economic prosperity of the nation.
(Disclaimer: The writer is Dr Rohinton Dastur, Director Medical-Bhatia Hospital Mumbai. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)