Budget 2020 : Healthcare industry expects infrastructure push, tax incentives for R&D

by Rashmi MabiyanNEW DELHI: Amidst a slowing economy, healthcare experts expect the Union Budget 2020 to provide a breather to the healthcare and pharma industry which has been reeling under challenges for quite a while now. Robust infrastructure, access to diagnostics, comprehensive healthcare policy, tax incentives are some of the expectations of the healthcare industry from the upcoming budget.“One of our greatest challenges in scaling up healthcare across India is the shortage of trained medical providers. The government’s Ayushman Bharat programme is visionary in its outlook and there is a great opportunity to incorporate digital health in the health and wellness centers, disease control programs and surveillance programs,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder, HealthCube.Laxminarayan added that there is a need to speed up access to diagnostics, and to use Artificial Intelligence (AI), cheap sensors and augmented reality to enhance the eSanjeevani platform in ways that will provide access to fast, affordable healthcare. “India is a global leader in information technology but if you walk into a rural clinic, that strength is nowhere apparent. That needs to change.”Arindam Haldar, CEO of SRL Diagnostics believes that the country’s healthcare policies do not see the entire healthcare value chain which includes – prevention of diseases, treatment and health insurance, as a whole. “There’s a need to connect all the dots together if India wants to achieve its goal of universal health coverage. A successful PPP model for diagnosis and treatment, and health insurance coverage can become a major instrument in achieving this target on the agenda of India.”Echoing Laxminarayan’s views, Haldar mentioned that the government needs to understand that diagnosis not only has important implications for patient care, but public policy decisions are often influenced by diagnostic information, such as setting payment policies, resource allocation decisions, and research priorities.“What’s missing even today is a healthcare scheme that provides cover for out-patient department (OPD) and diagnostics expenses. Indian healthcare spend entail huge ‘out of pocket’ expenditure, thus there is a need for inclusion of diagnostics spends under the ambit of insurance, which would further help Indian consumers to reduce the financial burden,” added Haldar.Shepreneur Savitha Kuttan, CEO of Omnicuris – a health tech and social medical enterprise – highlighted that the disease burden of non-communicable diseases is steadily on the rise which is currently responsible for 61 percent of deaths in the country.“We need major incentives and tax breaks and formulate strong policies to achieve universal health coverage. With a shortage of over 600,000 doctors and 2 million nurses, and just 0.9 hospital beds per 1000 people, our healthcare system needs more manpower and infrastructure in both rural and urban sectors,” she said.Kuttan added that the government needs to allocate funds to bridge course authorising community health workers to practice modern medicine can help make up for the chronic lack of availability of primary care physicians in rural and remote areas.With dismal insurance penetration rates and the lack of insurance for primary OPD visits, India also has one of the highest out of pocket health expenditure rates globally, pushing over 58 million people into poverty annually.“The temporary economic slowdown also means that public spending on health might shrink, which is not something we can afford. As long as the government spending remains low, the labour productivity in the health sector is not going to go up. The government needs to put all these things under consideration while allocating the budget in the healthcare industry,” said Kuttan.“The government should set aside funds to support the development of a federation of healthcare data. This will be the biggest lever for research and growth in the sector and without a government level push, individual players will be unable to do a whole lot,” said Zoya Brar, founder and CEO of CORE Diagnostics.Secondly, the government should set aside incentives for organizations that are collecting, storing and streamlining their data assets in a manner that allows for the deployment of the data protection bill, added Brar.Despite the intention of the government to promote data privacy through proposals such as the Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (DISHA), the reality on the ground is fraught with a lack of systems to collect, de-identify, store or control access for data, mentioned Brar. “..I hope that the budget will allocate funds to support data privacy initiatives as well.””The government should also focus on creating the healthcare infrastructure and invest extensively in upgrading primary and secondary healthcare services in tier I-II cities in the country. This can leverage the indigenous medical technologies developed specifically for Indian healthcare needs, and thereby support the Make in India initiative,” said Dr. GSK Velu, chairman & MD of Trivitron Healthcare.Velu added that the budgetary allocation should be enhanced on the primary health and on establishing the health and wellness centres (announced under Ayushman Bharat) which will help to reduce the disease burden.“The government should provide support to local manufacturing units in terms of preferred interest rates and priority sector lending and the focus should be on rationalising the GST rates for the health sector. Also, the medical devices manufactured in India should be given preference in government purchases,” he said.ReplyForward

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