Tuesday, 1 March 2016

India’s health budget: ‘SHRINKING’

The Budget comes with a minor increase in allocation to health as compared to last year. It doesn't totally restore the reduction that caused dismay within the last budget nor will it replicate the biggest governmental resource pool out there from the growing value and falling  fuel costs. One would have thought that the more comfortable fiscal space would allow a better  priority to health, as advocated by the Economic Survey.

The initiative on Jan Aushadi stores is welcome, because it ought to improve access to low priced, quality assured generic medicine. Can it replace the antecedently planned free provision of essential medicine in any respect public facilities? Or is that one thing the states have to be compelled to pursue on their own?

The proposed scheme to provide Rs 1 lakh of health insurance cover to each family appears to be an expansion of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. Will it also restrict its coverage to hospitalised care? While useful in reducing some of the financial shocks of hospitalisation, it will not reduce the high level of expenditure on recurrent out patient care or chronic drug therapy. More details are needed on how this scheme will function. The proposal to fund dialysis centres is again welcome, but limited in impact, if primary care is not efficient in preventing high blood pressure or diabetes progressing to kidney failure.

The increase tobacco taxes is a case of ‘willing to strike, but afraid to wound’. Bidis have again been left out of the tax net, even though they are the most frequently consumed form of tobacco. The finance minister’s gentle wave is not enough to disperse the dense cloud of tobacco smoke that envelopes public health today.