One of the key pillars of Budget 2021-22 is health and well-being with a substantial increase in budgetary outlay to support initiatives in healthcare, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. Years of chronic lack of adequate support have seriously weakened our public healthcare infrastructure and capability and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted these lacunae. The new centrally sponsored scheme ‘PM Atma Nirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana’ addresses this shortcoming. Spending ~$1 bn a year on building and upgrading primary, secondary, and tertiary care infrastructure is a step in the right direction. Additionally, the scheme will also look at strengthening the existing healthcare institutions like NCDCs and setting up four new regional National Virology institutes which will help us deal with emergent needs better. These initiatives and the expenditure incurred through the National Health Mission and PM-JAY schemes shows the clear focus from the government in improving healthcare services across the country. The budget also takes a holistic view of health and prioritises prevention by its focus on providing resources to provide clean and easily accessible drinking water, clean surroundings through Swachh Bharat initiatives tackling air pollution. The introduction of the National Commission for Allied Healthcare Professionals and The National Nursing and Midwifery Commission Bills will bring professionalism and encourage employment in the nursing and allied healthcare services.
The budget focuses on improving healthcare services in a holistic manner tackling prevention and treatment, as also primary, secondary, and tertiary care. However, some areas have not been addressed in the budget. There were expectations regarding additional tax incentives on insurance premiums for senior citizens, providing deductions for R&D expenditure to encourage innovation, measures to encourage and expand insurance coverage to missing middle classes, etc. These additional initiatives could have accelerated sectoral development making Indian healthcare stronger. The government, with limited resources, has tried to balance long-term infrastructure and capability development along with immediate needs such as vaccination.