The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the entire world the importance of having a strong healthcare sector. Knowing the immense contribution that the sector has provided all through 2020, it is possible that the long-term trend of low government spending on healthcare may show a reversal in the 2021 Union budget.
To begin with, one of the primary expectations from this year’s Budget is that there should be a bigger focus on public spending on healthcare. India’s total healthcare spending as per OECD, is way lower than that of other countries. The pandemic has urgently brought to the fore the need for good public hospitals. We need more public private partnerships, and further investments to strengthen indigenous manufacturing of medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE) and raw material for drugs.
It is also more important than ever now to provide greater investment for preparedness against other health emergencies that may arise in the future, by buttressing diagnostic testing capacities and contact tracing mechanisms.
We need more collaborative effort between private sector players and members of academia, scientific experts, and governments to strengthen R&D in drug discovery. Necessary incentives should be brought in to develop such partnerships and make them meaningful for the stakeholders.
Meanwhile, the private healthcare sector has suffered major losses along with all other sectors during this turbulent period and requisite efforts are a must for its revival. On the GST front, the government can consider making healthcare more affordable by taking an immediate step of making ‘zero rating’ of GST for healthcare services. This will offer two-pronged benefits — keeping the credit chain intact and ensuring that tax is not added to the cost of healthcare services.
As the private as well as public health sector have worked relentlessly through the pandemic, it is only fair to hope that Budget 2021 will come with some positive news that provides a major boost to the healthcare sector.
The writer is Director Medical-Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai. Views are personal
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