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While public healthcare spending remains largely status-quo in Union Budget 2017, the Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley declared a number of commendable initiatives to boost maternal, child and preventive health, improve medical education and infrastructure, eliminate epidemic diseases and promote use of generic medicines, among others. Let’s hear what healthcare experts have to say about the latest budget announcement.

Dr. Vivek Desai, Managing Director, Hosmac India Pvt. Ltd.

From healthcare industry perspective, budget is not bad. Overall outlay increased by 24% to 47,500 CR  which is almost 2.2% of GDP. It is not clear how this money will be spent but outcome oriented administration by this government should ensure proper usage like upgrading 150,000 sub centres to Wellness centres. Giving health insurance coverage of 100,000/- to the BPL patients with a top up of 30,000/- for senior is welcome and will encourage hospitalisation amongst the poor without waiting till critical stage. There would be some indirect benefits like the Digi Gaon allocation of 10,000 cr will help 150,000 gram panchayats to get broad band connectivity which will help bring telemedicine to their door steps. Money saved by lower tax regime will help people spend more on much needed health insurance. Lowering of taxes for MSME sector from 30% to 25% will also benefit smaller hospitals, diagnostic centres, nursing home sector. Addition on 5000 PG seats and two new AIIMS is step in right direction to make super specialty care as the focus. There is announcement about lowering cost of making medical devices in India though details are still awaited. As always, missing point is granting of Infrastructure status to healthcare to get better tax incentives and softer funding options, which is disappointing. Overall a pragmatic budget which will help stimulate growth.

Vishal Bali, Chairman & Co-founder, Medwell Ventures.

The much awaited Union Budget 2017-18  on the back of demonetisation has a balanced approach to the healthcare sector. A 27% increase in outlay for healthcare is a positive move by the finance minister but still misses the 2% of GDP healthcare spend by the Govt. The reduction in the cost of life-saving drugs and widening the availability of essential drugs is also in the right direction. The announcement of 5000 new PG seats in medicine should have been backed by significant reforms and policy change in medical education.The budget is once again silent on giving boost to healthcare infrastructure. Like low cost housing, healthcare should have been given infrastructure status.This budget is at best incremental for the healthcare sector and once again misses the much needed reformist attention.

Dr. Vikram Shah, CMD, Shalby Limited

All in all a positive budget with focused approach on improving lives of a billion plus population. Higher allocation to healthcare and healthcare infrastructure, initiative for tele-medicine and addressing concern of shortage of healthcare professional will ensure better healthcare index. Gujarat is fortunate to get the bonanza of an All India Institute of Medical Science. Allowing private hospitals to start Diplomate of National Board courses (DNB) and ensuring adequate availability of specialist doctors to strengthen the secondary and tertiary levels of health care and target of creating additional 5,000 post graduate seats will help address the issue of shortage of healthcare professionals. The move to convert 1.5 lakh health sub-centres to Health Wellness Centres will definitely give a big boost to Health for All.

Anjan Bose, Secretary General, NATHEALTH

Budget clearly focuses on improving healthcare access for the less privileged and on “preventive & wellness” both of which are very encouraging. Target of transforming 1.5 lakh health sub-centres into health and wellness centres is in line with the need of the hour for the Indian citizens.

Dr. Kaushik Murali, President – Medical Administration, Sankara Eye Foundation

Healthcare was among the 10 focus areas of the budget. They appear to have consolidated on schemes announced earlier. The visible allocation has been to maternal and child health and primary health care, an impetus with healthcare having infra status or to spur device manufacturing is not immediately evident. In the long term, programs on skilling, sanitation could improve overall healthcare. With most healthcare being out of pocket MNREGA allocation may also help increase access.

Sam Santhosh, Founder and Chairman, MedGenome

It’s a welcome step to reach and penetrate remote areas with limited healthcare access. Building an efficient healthcare system seems to be high on the agenda for the present government. By increasing the additional 5000 post-graduate seats per annum the government has shown its intent to transform healthcare. Its determination to eradicate diseases like Kala Azar, Filariasis, leprosy, measles and tuberculosis and bring down infant and maternal mortality rates is really applaudable. Assimilating disease information to senior citizen’s Aadhar card is a good way to understand the disease demographics.

Suresh Ramu, CEO & Co-Founder, Cytecare Hospitals

While not a lot of focus was given to the private healthcare sector, we feel that reducing costs of life-saving drugs will help hospitals make cancer treatment more affordable and cost-effective for the total life cycle of the patient treatment. This, in turn, will reduce total cost for patients to access quality healthcare. While the government has mentioned increasing access to healthcare for rural India, we hope that they will also focus on setting up specialty hospitals in villages. The 5% reduction in tax for small and medium enterprises will decrease some tax burden on players who are just establishing their business.

Dr. Dharminder Nagar, MD, Paras Healthcare

The most notable announcement on the healthcare front has been that of two new AIIMS. Given the need for expanding the reach of public healthcare, we need an AIIMS in every state. The pledge to eliminate tuberculosis by 2020 seems an ambitious target but it is a highly imperative one. Ensuring availability of drugs and medical devices at reasonable prices will help a large number of patients avail of critical health facilities. However the most notable step is decreasing a tax component of the people earning between Rs 2.5- Rs 5 lacs. This highlights that they shall have more spending power and we hope that in the wave of fitness and prevention, people will not ignore or postpone health checks and shall opt for diagnostic care.

Rajat Goel, Co-founder & CEO- Eye-Q Super Speciality Eye Hospitals

Improving healthcare and medical facilities for the poor and underprivileged was high on the agenda. The proposal to amend Drug and Cosmetics Rules to ensure availability of drugs at reasonable prices will be hugely beneficial to the people. The most significant announcement for healthcare is the conversion of 1.5 lakh health sub-centres to Health Wellness Centres. Proposed action plans to eliminate Kala Azar and Filariasis, leprosy, measles, TB, bring down MMR, and introduce DNB courses in hospitals were encouraging. The budget also laid emphasis on enhancing the medical education in the country. However, aid towards research and development, corporate tax cut, withdrawal of service tax on health insurance and exemption of input service tax on support services found no mention in the budget. in the space also went missing.

J. Sudhir Pai, ED & CEO, Vikram Hospital, Bangalore

Much awaited budget has been satisfactory for the healthcare sector. Infrastructure plans in healthcare and measures to help poor by bringing down costs and providing health cards for senior citizen are commendable. Encouraging private hospital to conduct DNB programs will help to improve the quality of healthcare. New rules regarding medical devices to be formulated will aim at helping investments into these sectors and bring down cost of the devices. Also plan of 1.5 lakh healthcare wellness centres will help in treatment and prevention of diseases. Amendments to drugs control act to bring down prices of medicines will help patients financially. With the reduction in tax rates to individuals earning upto 5 Lakhs and corporates with revenue of Rs. 50 crore is appreciable.

Suresh Sugavanam, Vice President and Managing Director, UL South Asia.

The proposal by the Government to formulate new regulations for medical devices is a welcome move. India is one of the fastest growing markets for healthcare in the world; and it is important that the country starts to design and manufacture medical devices that are best in class and follow international standards in quality and compliance. This will not only ensure patient safety but also make the domestic industry globally competitive.

K.G. Krishnamoorthy Rao, Future Generali India Insurance

Union budget 2017 majorly focused on the importance of digital payments across sectors including hospitals. This will encourage people to pay insurance premium through digital mode. Additionally, it will direct customers to open e-insurance accounts and also help us to settle claims through digital mode. The tax reduction for individuals with income upto Rs 5 lakh will give an opportunity to young tax payers to buy Health Insurance from an early age for themselves and parents. FM’s proposal to amend drug rules to ensure drugs and medical devises are available at affordable prices will definitely lighten the burden on pockets of individuals.