As the new financial year gears up to strike the 2017 calendar, the expectations from the upcoming Union Budget of 2017-18 are rising high. In his third Union Budget of 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Government of India, had opened his goodie bag rolling out many schemes and policies to further equip the healthcare sector of the country. With specific focus on improving the livelihood of India's soul, its rural population, the Union Budget 2016-17 seems to be aimed at putting more money in the hands of the citizens. However, this time the healthcare bodies will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming budget as they are expecting the Finance Minister to address the other key issues such as rolling out ‘Digital Card' that will connect the people with various schemes including Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana, the Atal Pension Yojana, the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha BimaYojana etc., strengthening the nephrologists team across the countryand many other issues.
National Health Protection Scheme
In his last outing on the budget session, Jaitley launched a new National Health Protection Scheme that provides cover upto Rs one lakh per family. The main focus of the scheme is to provide financial assistance to those families who have lost their earning member in any accident or natural calamities. The insurance scheme aims to protect the person from health diseases and other long term health issues.
Under this scheme, 10 crore families living below poverty line and other economically weaker group will be benefited. However, the scheme has received mixed reactions from the people as it is similar to Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana which provides Rs 30,000 cover for selected diseases and treatment. There were expectations that the government may come out with a single digital card that will connect the people with the benefits of various scheme such as Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana, the Atal Pension Yojana, the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, in addition to the old age pension schemes. This could have proved a fruitful roll out for the government as it would have impacted 40 crore unorganised workers in the country, that accounts for about 89 per cent of the total workforce.
Shedding some light on the budget, Rita Bakshi, Chairperson, International Fertility Centre said, "Finally, the healthcare sector took the centre stage in the budget. The government's plan to add 3,000 pharmacies under the Jan Aushadhi Yojana to avail generic drugs at affordable prices is a commendable move. The Health Protection Scheme of Rs one lakh to cover unforeseen illness in poor families with an additional Rs 30,000 for senior citizens was a long-awaited step. The healthcare proposal focusing on the weaker section of society was a path-breaking step. Healthcare necessities of the rural and senior people were the critical pillars of the Union Budget 2016."
Speaking about the implementation, Bakshi stated that three important initiatives were introduced that have majorly contributed to making an educated, healthier and stronger India. First is the government's purpose to double income of farmers in the coming five years; second, new initiatives to improve irrigation access; third, to produce one crore skilled youth in the future three years. It has effectively worked in making a healthier India." ‘Health for All' plan is still neglected in the form of policies and allocations from the Union Budget 2016. The provision of infrastructure status to healthcare and increasing the public expenditure from the current 1.1 per cent of GDP to over 2.5 per cent remains unaccomplished. The healthcare industry still remains far from satisfied as the Union Budget 2016 could not offer its due attention. The government should strictly consider healthcare sector as a factor of GDP growth rather than a social sector that demands change," she added.