“Good health is a necessity for both quality of life, and a person’s productivity and ability to support his or her family. Providing medical services in each village and city is absolutely essential,” said finance minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget speech.
The statement summed up his outlay for the health sector, which focused on increasing infrastructure and offering incentives aim ed at lowering out-of-pocket health expenditure for the common man.
While the budget allocation for public health remained stagnant at Rs 33,152 crore, the announcement about the setting up of five new AIIMS brought some cheer.
Jaitley also linked health to the Swachh Bharat initiative. “It is not only a programme of hygiene and cleanliness… but also a programme for preventive healthcare and awareness,” he said, adding that 50 lakh toilets have already been built in 2014-15 and the Centre will meet the target of building six crore toilets.
He announced several health insurance premium deductions, with additional breaks for people over 60 years.
“The Budget has created vision and focusing on insurance will help more people access treatment and care, but more attention should have been given to building human capital. Creating five AIIMS is just not enough,” says Suneeta Reddy, managing director, Apollo Hospital Group.
“The visa on arrival facility will help medical tourism. Medical tourists spend four times as much as ordinary tourists, which adds foreign exchange to the exchequer,” she added.
Public health advocates expressed disappointment. “The need of the hour is to increase the outlay exponentially year on year until it reaches at least 3% of the GDP. This necessitates a more radical approach to healthcare than what was exhibited in the Budget,” says Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India.
On the preventive front, tax on sweetened drinks was raised, along with cigarette and tobacco taxes. Yoga was declared a charitable activity with tax breaks for charitable organizations promoting it.