While efficacy remains to be judged, Budget has started a much-needed conversation around health.
Times of India
1st February 2018
(Note: Health care, Obamacare, Modicare! What better publicity stunt can you think of to be in the company of the high and mighty to shine as equal to any among the World Leaders? What remains to be seen is the execution of a plethora of promises he made starting with the promise to put 15 lakh Rupees in every one’s accounts from the money he would be bringing back from funds deposited in foreign banks by tax evaders.
Another well publicized call was: ‘Sab ka sat,sab ka vikas!” The last 3 years of BJP has proved beyond doubt that if Modi dispensation is fully with the defence and development more of the cow population or with the marginalized dalits and Muslims finding a source of Income in cattle trade.
As for health care, UP shot into prominence where so many children had to breathe their last due to failure on the part of hospitals there to provide oxygen. All the same ‘Modicare’ has kickstarted a national conversation on the importance of the health of every Indian citizen, especially the poor millions who are victims of various diseases and can’t afford the high cost of going to hospitals, which are more interested in fleecing than curing the patients. Health is wealth. What will happen to India, if most of its workforce is sick and bedridden? james kottoor, editor, ccv.
See report below
In a significant Budget announcement, finance minister Arun Jaitley provided for a flagship National Health Protection Scheme under which Rs 5 lakh cover will be provided every year to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.
Being dubbed as the world’s largest healthcare scheme or ‘Modicare’, the medical insurance cover is aimed at empowering the poor who suffer the most due to ailments and hospitalisation. Additionally, Rs 1,200 crore has been allotted for 1.5 lakh wellness health centres in the country. Also announced was Rs 600 crore for nutritional support of tuberculosis patients, under which Rs 500 will be provided to each TB patient undergoing treatment. Plus, a total of 24 new government medical colleges have been announced as part of the new initiative for health.
According to some estimates, the premium outgo for the National Health Protection Scheme would be in the range of Rs 2-2.5 lakh crore each year. Hence, this is easily one of the most significant announcements of the Budget. But what’s interesting is that this Budget is the last full Budget that the Modi government is presenting before the next Lok Sabha polls. And such Budgets are usually utilised by the incumbent government to dole out populist schemes and concessions in the hope that these would translate into electoral dividends. In that sense, the Modi government resorting to healthcare as a populist tool to deliver poll results is something new for India.
That said, some questions remain around the National Health Protection Scheme. Budget documents show that the expenditure on health in 2018-19 is pegged at Rs 54,667 crore. So it’s not clear how much of the new scheme will be covered in the next year, given that it will take time to roll out the massive healthcare initiative. Nonetheless, it’s welcome that with this move healthcare has become a national conversation. A major reason why healthcare in this country continues to be in a shambles is that health hitherto was not seen as a political issue. This has resulted in a situation where we have a shortage of doctors, seriously overburdened public hospitals and super expensive private healthcare.
The fallout of this is that doctors today are increasingly seen as carpetbaggers working for corporate interests and prescribing unnecessary treatments at exorbitant rates. All the while the poor of the country continue to suffer diseases for the lack of access to proper medical help. The only way this situation can be turned around is to treat healthcare as a political issue so that every political party is forced to lay out detailed health plans in their election manifestos. Only then will government hospitals, doctors, diagnostic centres and pharmaceutical companies be made more accountable.
While the efficacy and implementation of the National Health Protection Scheme remains to be seen, at least it has started a much-needed political conversation around health that will hopefully divert greater resources and care towards this critical social sector.
(Views expressed above are the author's own).