The curious disconnect between Budget and draft national health policy

 E Kumar Sharma        Last Updated: March 3, 2015  | 14:23 IST

E Kumar Sharma, Associate Editor, Business Today
E Kumar Sharma, Associate Editor, Business Today
The Union Budget talks of all the right things on healthcare. There is mention of a need to provide medical services in each village, more All India Institutes of Medical Sciences or AIIMS-like institutions are being planned, there is fillip to the insurance sector, yoga is encouraged, and there is even an emphasis on healthy surroundings with Swachh Bharat.

But still, experts in healthcare are unhappy. Reason: they see a disconnect between what the Budget has to say and the draft National Health Policy that is currently put up on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website for public comments. "I believe there is a dissonance between the draft health policy and the Budget. Clearly, the health policy is still a draft but one would expect that once the draft policy is put up on the website, it must reflect a consensus within the government (and across ministries) and not appear as just a vision statement of the health ministry alone," says K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India.

Reddy feels that the Budget does not give any indication of how that vision is going to be realised by appropriate back up resources, given that while the Finance Minister spoke of more AIIMS-like institutions, he did not speak of new medical colleges, or about increasing the health workforce, or about strengthening primary health services.

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It is not without reason that Vishal Bali, Co-founder and Chairman of Medwell Ventures, in a column on the BT website points out: "The allocation of Rs 33,150 crore for the sector is similar to the outlay in previous Budgets and does not translate to the much anticipated increase from 1.2 per cent of GDP spend to 2 per cent spend, which has been the direction set by the government in the draft national healthcare policy."

Many in the Indian healthcare sector, in their initial response to the Budget, were disappointed that yet again a chance to grant infrastructure status to healthcare was missed. Now, reading the Budget with the draft policy, they are seeing more areas for concern. There is a clear want now to see a policy consensus across the government on the way ahead on healthcare, a political commitment to back it up and most important of all, that the Centre and the states all subscribe to the same vision.

At the moment, the signals either from the Budget or from the spending patterns across states do not seem to indicate this, which could be worrying.

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