For Finance Minister (FM) Arun Jaitley, the agenda of Budget 2016-2017 was clearly carved out - ‘Transform India’. His budget proposals were built around this outline and had nine distinct pillars. One of them was the country’s social sector, including health care, under which three major schemes will be undertaken to help the weaker sections of society.
The government has decided to embark upon on a mission to provide LPG connection in the name of women members of poor households. The FM set aside a sum of Rs 2,000 crore in this year’s budget to meet the initial cost of providing these LPG connections. This will benefit about 150,00,000 households below poverty line (BPL) in 2016-17. The scheme will be continued for at least two more years to cover a total of 5 crore beyond BPL households.
Taking cognisance of the fact that serious illness of family members cause immense stress on the financial circumstances of poor and economically weak families, the government will launch a new health protection scheme which will provide health cover up to Rs 1,00, 000 (1 lakh) per family. For senior citizens aged 60 and above belonging to this category, an additional top-up package up to Rs 30,000 will be provided.
“The new announcements on proposals related to improving the health of India’s population are heartening. The increased coverage on health promotion scheme is welcome, but falls short of what would be adequate for coverage for treatment of major illnesses,” says Dr Vivekanand Jha, executive director, George Institute for Global Health, India.
Making quality medicines available at affordable prices has been a key challenge. To reinvigorate the supply of generic drugs, 3,000 stores under Prime Minister’s Jan Aushadhi Yojana will be opened during 2016-17. “We need a system of making sure the drug inventory and use is monitored, the generic and biosimilar industry is better governed,” says Jha.
About 2.2 lakh new patients of end-stage renal disease get added in India every year resulting in additional demand for 3.4 crore dialysis sessions. With nearly 4,950 dialysis centres in India, largely in the private sector and concentrated in major towns, the demand is only half met. Every dialysis session costs about Rs 2,000 – an annual expenditure of more than Rs 3 lakh. To address this situation, the FM has proposed to start a ‘National Dialysis Services Programme’. Funds for this will be made available through PPP mode under the National Health Mission, to provide dialysis services in all district hospitals. To reduce the cost, he proposed to exempt certain parts of dialysis equipment from basic customs duty, excise/countervailing duty and special additional duty.
The provision of dialysis has long been a benchmark for the willingness of governments around the world to provide health care to its people. “Once again – the devil will be in the details, for it is easy to spend a lot of money on dialysis for a relatively small proportion of the population. Quality should not be sacrificed at the altar of cost,” says Jha.
Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) entrepreneurs are beginning to show great promise in starting and running successful business enterprises. The Union Cabinet has approved the “Stand Up India Scheme” to promote entrepreneurship among SC/ST and women and Rs 500 crore has been provided for this purpose.