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News: Recently unveiled budget proposes many initiatives for health sector like digitally managed health ecosystem and provisions for mental health.
But, many expectations for the health sector remain unfulfilled.
What are the limitation in current budget’s approach towards health sector?
Budget’s emphasis on Digital technology could be a game-changer, but only if the facility, doctors, patients, and systems work in tandem.
Problem with excessive reliance on digital ecosystem: When it comes to Covid vaccinations, the digital platform has been a runaway success, primarily due to the COWIN platform. It was simple, and the citizen could choose between public and private facilities.
However, management of hospital beds across the country is a different story. Nearly 95% of them are operated by small hospitals or nursing homes. The setting up of a National Digital Ecosystem which “will maintain digital registries of health providers and health facilities,” is a positive move but needs elaboration on how it will manage to include these private facilities.
Also there are apprehensions regarding the consent and compliance cost in maintaining such a database.
Mental healthcare: Although inclusion of this subject in budget makes society aware that such conditions can afflict anyone, but the disease can be treated, and patients should not be stigmatised.
Also, the budget speech did not mention if the mental health strategy will focus on all psychological problems or only those that have arisen in the wake of Covid.
Also, many mental health conditions encompass disorders that are not suited to teleconsultation, which is at the core of digital health strategy envisaged in this budget.
What is the way forward?
There is need to substantially raise the overall budgetary contribution to the health sector. It is currently set at 1.8% of the GDP and the push in the budget appears very small.
During the pandemic, the unorganised middle class was caught without adequate (or even any) health insurance. There is need for some provisions for supporting this lower end of the “missing middle”.
Ayushman Bharat should be expanded to cover the outpatient costs faced by the poor. The Economic Survey has recognised that such expenditure is huge.
There is need to address the crisis of non-communicable diseases — hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. They can be addressed by the same strategy of fiscal measures, incentives, and disincentives that have reduced the incidences related to lethal consequences of smoking.
Source: This post is based on the article “Budget disappoints on healthcare” published in Indian express on 5th Feb 2022.