- By Deepak Sahni
Union Budget 2020 India: With the start of the new year comes the expectation for the year’s budget and the benefits it is expected to bring to businesses and people at large. Amongst the major sectors that people are concerned about, healthcare is a key sector that is closely watched. The healthcare sector, therefore, would expect some transformational interventions in this year's budget. As we begin a new decade, this year's budget could play a defining role to change the attitude of people towards healthcare.
The foremost expectation would be to see policies being announced that fulfil the government's vision of affordable healthcare. Since non-communicable diseases are on a continuous rise the focus on preventive healthcare and policies that make it more accessible for common people would be highly appreciated. Considering that diagnostics is the first step towards health management and treatment, it is hoped that the government standardises the market and creates a regulatory framework for the industry to remove differential pricing and quality issues that exist in the sector.
Under section 80D (IT Act) the government had introduced some tax benefits on preventive healthcare. However, since 90 per cent of healthcare expenditure in the country is concentrated on treatment, a focus on the preventive aspect of healthcare is essential. As per studies, preventive health check-ups account for less than 10 per cent of the total diagnostic services sector. However, the segment is growing at a healthy rate of almost 20 per cent. Therefore it'll be good to see a relaxation further in tax exemption ceilings under Section 80D towards the cost of preventive check-ups. This will encourage more people to go for health check-ups thereby propelling the segment to grow further.
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Bringing diagnostics under the insurance ambit would also help as this would reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of people. We also expect to see an increase in the limits on reimbursement of expenses on diagnostics, preventive health check-ups, etc.
When it comes to healthcare spends, India is one of the lowest spenders on healthcare globally. While it was stated that the country is set to increase healthcare spending to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2025, unfortunately, it continues to stand at 1 per cent. We expect to see some significant steps being taken around this in the budget. Higher spend on healthcare sector would ensure some solid steps are taken to introduce innovative, tech-enabled interventions that translate into better healthcare services and higher affordability. It is also important to note that population of elderly people in the country is rising and it stands to reason that this rise will be accompanied by a rise in the demand for quality healthcare services, especially home healthcare services. This would also reduce the pressure on hospitals where the ratio of patients to bed is disproportionately skewed.
It'll be good to see reforms in all major areas from primary healthcare, to diagnostics, to palliative healthcare and insurance. Higher spends on healthcare would also be essential to providing good quality primary healthcare in rural areas. Major reforms and investments would be expected that would improve the quality of healthcare drastically in smaller towns and rural areas. Thereby pushing for an attitudinal change towards health at the grass-root level in terms of preventive health management that would help build a healthier and a more prosperous nation.
(Deepak Sahni is the Founder & CEO at Healthians. Views expressed are the author's own.)