Budget 2021 meets most expectations of the healthcare industry following the covid crisis. The increase in the total budget outlay for the healthcare sector is a welcome move and addresses the long-pending demand for an interventional focus on healthcare spending.
The proposed 137 per cent YoY increase for ‘health and well being’ at Rs 2,23, 846 crores comes at a time of need. The launch of the PM Aatmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojna with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crores over six years along with the National Health Mission demonstrates that building the healthcare capacity of the country is a key priority for the government.
The interventions of the Aatmanirbhar Swasth Yojna that focus on developing capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care with 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban health and wellness care centres strengthen existing national institutions and create more. By bolstering the National Centre for Disease Control (NDNC) and establishing integrated public health laboratories at the district level, the government showcases the focus on strengthening diagnostics networks and preventive healthcare.
The government has specifically allocated Rs 35,000 crores for COVID-19 vaccination. This will help in sizable procurement along with investment in cold chain management, syringes, and other requirements. The rollout of pneumococcal vaccines to prevent 50,000 deaths annually is a great step.
Increased Health Research spending to Rs 2,663 crores (for 2021-22) and the allocation of Rs 50,000 crores for the National Research Foundation (NRF) over the next five years portends well for Indian innovation and R&D. Mission Poshan 2.0 is a heartening initiative along with the Rs 60,030 crore expenditure for the Department of Drinking water and Sanitation that brings added focus to providing clean and safe drinking water to the entire population.
However, Budget 2021 comes with a few caveats. The 137 per cent increase in healthcare is arrived at by combining the budgets for three departments under ‘health and well-being’ for the 2021 budget. The budget under the Health Ministry is at a total of Rs 73,931 crores (including Health Research), an increase of only 10 per cent YoY in pandemic conditions. Out of this, Rs 35,000 crores form the corpus of Covid-19 vaccinations specifically. Additionally, the budget for nutrition has been shrunk from Rs 3,700 crores to Rs 2,700 crores—a 27 per cent cut—so, the actual impact of Mission Poshan 2.0 will have to be seen in the future. The Aatmanirbhar Swasth Yojna expenditure is also spread over a period of 6 years—the actual spending details for 2021-22 is awaited—so, the spending in the next five years is critical.
While the budget does leave some expectations unanswered, it also must meet the wide-arching needs of the entire nation’s healthcare. Overall, Budget 2021 has been widely welcomed by the healthcare industry, and with good reason.