Narendra Modi government’s ambitious National Health Policy 2017 may remain a promise if the budget allocation for health sector during the year is any indication. While NHP aims to double the government spend – from the existing 1.15 % of the GDP to 2.5 % by 2025, the budgetary allocation of Rs 52,800 crore for health in 2018/19 was merely 5 per cent higher than the revised estimate of Rs 50,079.6 crore, in 2017/18.
It is estimated that to meet the objectives of the policy, the governments – both central and state – together should increase their total allocation towards health to Rs 800,000 crore, up from the current Rs 200,000 crore by year 2025. To achieve that, the central government health budget alone should increase at least 20 percent year-on-year for the next seven-eight years. While the budgetary allocation for the previous year, 25 percent higher than Rs 37,671 crore spent in 2016/17, indicated the government’s seriousness in implementing the policy suggestions, it seems to have lost momentum this year. Even if one go by the budgetary allocation of Rs 47,352 crore for 2017/18 (and not revised estimates), the increase in this year’s budget is 11 percent, half of what is needed.
The Union Budget, however is not short of making big announcements. It quoted NHP to say that the government is going ahead with the establishment of Health and Wellness Centres as the foundation of India’s health system. “These 1.5 lakh centres will bring health care system closer to the homes of people. These centres will provide comprehensive health care, including for noncommunicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services”, Jaitley said in his budget speech. He has committed Rs 1,200 crore in the budget for this flagship programme and invited the contributions of the private sector through CSR and philanthropic institutions in adopting these centres.
The government also announced an expanded version of its health insurance scheme. “The present Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) provide annual coverage of only Rs 30,000 to poor families. Several state governments have also implemented/supplemented health protection schemes providing varying coverage. We will launch a flagship National Health Protection Scheme to cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage upto 5 lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation”, he announced. While Jaitley claimed this to be the world’s largest government funded health care programme, its details are yet to be known.