Express Healthcare

Budget 2022: What does the industry want?

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The Union Budget 2022-2023 will be presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman February 1

Healthcare sector is the top most priority all across since the starting of the pandemic. Below are the industry expectations for healthcare sector from this year’s budget:

Invest in technology to bridge the rural-urban divide in healthcare

Sharing his expectations, Dr H Sudarshan Ballal, Chairman, Manipal Hospitals said:

  • Increased allocation for healthcare since we still have a lot of ground to cover in our expenditure on healthcare
  • Spend on strengthening our primary healthcare system which is the backbone of healthcare in India, public healthcare, preventive healthcare in addition to nutrition in children, and aggressive vaccination campaigns to include COVID-19 vaccination for all
  • We also need to strengthen the public healthcare system by upgrading the infrastructure and personnel at government hospitals
  • Specifically, strengthen pediatric care, and pediatric intensive care, along with setting up of training programs and teams of intensive care doctors in government hospitals including in adult intensive care
  • Invest in more diagnostic labs across the country which was a necessity during the current pandemic
  • Set up more medical colleges especially in underserved areas and upgrade district hospitals to be the teaching hospitals for these colleges
  • Invest in technology to bridge the rural-urban divide in healthcare and make healthcare available for all in the country by expanding our universal healthcare schemes

Training, and medical infrastructure needs to be nurtured

Highlightening the need for more focus on training and skill development, Ameera Shah, Promoter and Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare said, “While we still battle the mutations to the COVID-19, I believe that the upcoming budget might comprehensively cater to healthcare sector. R&D in India and around the world has been ever developing solutions to address the existing issues and has been preparing for the anticipated ones. Technological intervention has increased digital and home-based healthcare ecosystem ensuring a reliable healthcare solution for the nation. However, training, and medical infrastructure needs to be nurtured. The Centre’s current expenditure on healthcare is estimated at 1.2 per cent of the GDP (as per National Health Accounts, 2016-17) and envisioned to touch 2.5 per cent by 2025. And I believe that strong investments in healthcare can help buoy the nation’s economy.”

Gerald Jaideep, CEO, Medvarsity Online added, “It is expected of the government to make a stronger allocation to the health space with the upcoming budget. While the efforts are really admirable, one of the major gap areas that have resurfaced prominently due to the pandemic is the continuous education and training of the healthcare workforce. Access to quality educational material and avenues of learning are few and remote for the majority of healthcare professionals in the country. This gap can be filled by leveraging online education technologies specially designed for the healthcare industry. While the Government has launched the National Digital Health Mission, it would be a boost to the entire healthcare ecosystem if the healthcare ed-tech segment gets integrated with the mission. Furthermore, the sector hopes that finance minister will make focused budgetary allocation for the healthcare ed-tech industry or incentivise the sector through innovative fiscal policies. We also hope that the government would create an across-the-board collaboration opportunity for healthcare and ed-tech partners to create rich course curricula and learning material for healthcare professionals while incentivising them to pursue the programs.”

KR Raghunath, Senior Chairman, Jindal Naturecure Institute added, “The need of the hour is to spend more on creating awareness about why preventive healthcare is important, more so with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even though COVID is a communicable disease, its worst effects are visible in those with non-communicable diseases– cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension,  obesity and chronic respiratory diseases. Therefore, an allocation only for strengthening communicable disease surveillance is a sub-optimal solution. The budget for up-skilling of the youth to become Preventive Health Coaches is also required since this will address the problem of unemployment and build on PM Modi’s Atmanirbhar mission. We need to consider coming out of this pandemic as a healthier and fitter country.”

Anand Narasimhan, MD, Merck Specialities added, “The last two years of the pandemic has given us a reality check on the urgent need to build a robust healthcare system. One of the most effective solutions to mitigate the current challenges would be enhancing access to affordable healthcare, that will require building a solid healthcare ecosystem and strong leadership from the pharmaceutical industry. Investment in innovation, infrastructure and R&D would be key parameters for the success of this mission. Increasing the scope of health insurance coverage will help reduce health expenditure by securing a large part of the hospitalization expense. Simultaneously lowering the GST rate on life-saving medicines and pharma drugs would be a welcome move. Further, an upskilled workforce will form the backbone of the pharma sector, ready to cope with any unforeseen challenges. The healthcare sector looks forward to enhanced collaboration with the government to be recognised as a priority sector to deliver high quality and affordable healthcare’.

Joy Chakraborty, COO, P. D. Hinduja Hospital & MRC said, “Availability of skilled manpower remains a key challenge. The government should expedite the implementation of setting up of medical colleges announced in the earlier budget. To encourage the private sector to take up workforce skilling activities, the government should consider providing tax incentives for expenses incurred healthcare skill development and tax deduction on stipends to professionals undergoing DNB and PG courses at hospitals.The government should encourage entrepreneurship and start-ups with funding and mentoring, to help develop innovative solutions and newer healthcare delivery models, which is the need of the hour. To strengthen the private sector’s health infrastructure, the government should consider offering deductions to healthcare providers for capital investments incurred for fighting the pandemic. There needs to be a stronger collaboration between public and private sector to build more primary healthcare infrastructure. The facilities in public sectors hospitals in smaller towns must be upgraded so that they have adequate supplies of oxygen, ventilators etc”

Remove GST on healthcare service providers & digital health companies

Shyatto Raha, Founder and CEO, MyHealthcare said, “As of today, medical practitioners, clinicians and clinical establishments such as hospitals, clinics and labs are exempted from GST. Start-ups and health tech companies like MyHealthcare, who are working towards using technology in making healthcare delivery available to a wider population continue to come under the purview of GST. This burden increases the cost of healthcare for our patients across India. COVID 19 has brought out how stressed our healthcare system is in India, it has also been proven that digital healthcare or technology-enabled healthcare delivery has become a primary channel for patients to access quality healthcare. Health tech companies have worked hard to bring effective solutions more accessible. In the upcoming budget, we would hope and request the government to remove GST on healthcare service providers & digital health companies directly involved in the process of care delivery. This would help relieve a whole lot of financial burden on us, allowing us to deliver quality & more affordable healthcare to our patients across the country. This would be more than welcome at a time when our country is going through the 3rd wave of the pandemic.”

Boost to the Ayurvedic Healthcare ecosystem

Ram N Kumar, Founder and CEO, NirogStreet said, “As we enter the third year of pandemic, it is evident that nurturing the health ecosystem has become an immediate priority especially preventive and immunity building. Also, it has to be acknowledged that the dream of Universal Health Coverage is impossible without mainstreaming of Ayurveda healthcare. So, there is a need to support, encourage and accelerate accessibility to authentic doctors, good quality medicine development, modern technology solutions and digitization in this field. For the past few years, the Government of India has done a lot to promote Ayurveda. Still a lot needs to be achieved and fast. The right provisions in the Union Budget would give boost to the Ayurvedic Healthcare ecosystem. Waiving off or reduction in GST from the current 12% on Ayurvedic medicines would promote the consumption of natural medicines and sustainable healthcare. Allocation of budget for overall development of a future ready healthcare ecosystem which has world class Ayurvedic medical research, development of world class institutions, development of innovative technology solutions and; medicine research and development is desired. We hope that the Union Budget would include focused approach towards accelerating the development of holistic Ayurveda science.”

Increase in customs duty for finished medical equipment/devices

Sharing his expectations, Dr GSK Velu, Chairman & Managing Director, Trivitron Healthcare and Neuberg Diagnostics highlighted:

  • Tax break for 10 years for setting up facilities in upcoming economic zones, MedTech Parks & MedTech Manufacturing facilities, similar to the tax break given for Pharma – API facilities at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh.
  • Increase in customs duty for finished medical equipment/devices. Reduction in customs duty for components and SKD imports to promote manufacturing in India.
  • Government grants to support R&D and manufacturing facility setup for important medical equipment like IVD instruments, cath lab, CT scanners, MRI scanners, ultrasound, patient monitor, ventilators etc.
  • Tax breaks and incentives for private healthcare infrastructure creation in tier 3 & 4 towns. This will enable the healthcare reach to the deepest level in the country.
  • Increase in Income Tax Exemption limits for medical insurance. In view of the COVID pandemic, the insurance companies have increased the premium and in view of the above the Insurance premium Tax Exemption Limits have to be appropriately increased for all classes.
  • 1 to 2 per cent GST for health services to avail GST input credits by health services industry. GST has to be reduced significantly across all products and services, to spur consumer spending. Healthcare services have to be brought under GST regime with 1 per cent levy so that they are able to avail the input credit available, which go as waste now, resulting in higher cost of services. If this is done, the overall cost of healthcare services will actually come down benefitting larger section of the people.

Satyaki Banerjee, CEO-Medical Imaging, Trivitron Healthcare said, “By 2025, we expect the government to increase the public investment from 1.29 per cent of GDP to at least 2.5-3 per cent. There is much more room for the medical device industry to flourish, since it has a diverse ecosystem, including stakeholders from academia and government. Currently, India is among top 20 markets for medical devices globally. The market is expected to increase at a 37 per cent CAGR to reach $50 billion in 2025. However, India currently imports ~80 per cent of medical devices requirements. We are looking forward to the government’s improved reform plans in this budget. More emphasis should be placed in facilitating manufacturing in the country. Since the medical device industry is still in its formative stages, establishing an efficient ecosystem is vital to the field’s long-term success. More medical device parks should be built because they establish a robust and cost effective ecology for the country’s medical device industry. To boost domestic manufacturing of medical devices and make India self-reliant, the government to increase the total outlay allocated to the PLI Scheme (Production –Linked Incentive). Preference should be given to products manufactured in India in public procurement.”

Chander Shekhar Sibal, Senior Vice President, Medical Division, Fujifilm India said, “We’re looking forward to building and balancing the country’s healthcare infrastructure with government’s support as we enter the third year of the pandemic. We hope that the budget delivers a special focus on healthcare to mitigate the devastation from the coronavirus. For this, it will be pertinent to have concrete policies that ensure accessible and affordable healthcare. It would be great to see the allocation of funds within the states as per policy. The timeline of fund clearance should be reduced to clear roadblocks due to lack of funds. Once these are in place, we can expect better outcomes out of public-private partnerships in the space and make payment processing easier and quicker.”

Dr Veeraal Gandhi, Chairman and Managing Director, Voxtur Bio said, “In the upcoming budget, the government needs to propose incentives and tax benefits on investments by IVD manufacturers. Moreover, to make the IVD industry self-sufficient, advanced, and productive, the government should incentivise technology adoption. The budget can propose subsidies on technology imports from developed countries to facilitate the fast-paced growth of the domestic IVD industry. It can also propose a framework for an effective public-private partnership (PPP) model for cost-efficient technology transfer. In addition, the budget needs to relook into the tax liability on the IVD sector to ensure the delivery of affordable healthcare. The IVD industry has a huge export growth potential thanks to the growing adoption of point-of-care tests and a shift in the healthcare outlook across the world from illness to wellness. So, the government needs to create an enabling environment for the domestic IVD solutions manufacturers to help them invest in R&D and enhance export competitiveness.”

Anand. K, CEO, SRL Diagnostics added, “The government could look at reducing the high custom duty on the import of diagnostic equipment and kits. This can help large laboratories like SRL to improve efficiencies and increase investments in R&D. Easing the cost burden by giving input tax credit for GST will aid the entire healthcare industry to reduce input costs. The government could also look at collaborating on public private partnerships. Policymakers can customise health delivery to districts, cities and towns by harnessing the big data generated by laboratories. PPPs for such collaborations could be useful as labs can provide actionable health insights that can improve the health indicators of a particular state. We also hope that the government will look at instituting an official council that can help establish credibility and credentials of medical laboratory professionals and allied health professionals. In absence of any regulatory legal mechanism to oversee the educational and professional standards, educational institutions have been mushrooming unabatedly across the country. As seen in the pandemic, along with doctors, medical lab and allied health professionals are the backbone of the industry and it is important to provide avenues for up-skilling and reskilling by way of continuous technical education.”

Ashok Patel, CEO and Founder, Max Ventilator said, “Apart from the need to raise the share of healthcare as a proportion of GDP to at least 2.5 percent in the upcoming budget, the government must also further build on its earlier policy incentives such as PLI schemes and dedicated medtech parks by increasing allocations. In fact, the government should ensure that the smaller medical device players also get included and can benefit from the special schemes and offers that it has extended with a view to catalyse domestic manufacturing and to achieve the larger goal of self-reliance. Given the repeated occurrences of infectious diseases of epidemic scale in recent years, the government should also invest sufficiently into genetic and genomic research, epidemiology and vaccine research besides increasing allocation for broader healthcare R&D. Of course, the diagnostics and preventive health device segment must be given as much policy and financial support as possible. Further, the budget could also incentivize the consumables as well as medical device accessory segments which hold huge promise for the domestic sector. At the same time, adequate allocation must be made for training of personnel required for the deployment and usage of critical care equipment such as ventilators and other similar lifesaving devices.”

Sharing his expectation for medtech sector, Anish Bafna, CEO & MD, Healthium Medtech added, “As we gear up for the budget of FY 2022-23, the expectation is high in terms of research and development push to the medtech and devices sector in terms of incentivisation and tax holidays for a period of 10 years to be provided on the spending on research. There is also a need to increase the export incentives under the newly introduced Remission of Duties and Taxes on Export Products Scheme (RoDTEP), rationalisation of Custom Duty, roll back health cess on imports of medtech products and amendment of SEZ Act to allow SEZ medtech manufacturers to sell their produce in the domestic market. Facilitating of single-window clearances for government approvals for the local companies, rebates on costs related to product registrations in foreign countries and keeping exported products outside the purview of price control will together contribute to a more significant push for exports.”

Dr Angeli Misra (MD Path), Founder & Director, Lifeline Laboratory says, “To combat the pandemic crisis, increased fund allocation in every aspect of the healthcare sector, a reduction in GST and import duty for critical care equipment and components (86 per cent of which are dependent on imports) as an initiative for government support for the medical devices manufacturing industry, more funding to boost the development of the digital health sector and the production of point-of-care equipment can bring the highest level of quality care to the interiors and remote areas of India. In addition, the establishment of more medical education institutions and imparting of advanced training to enhance the skills of healthcare workers is of considerable significance and the need of the hour.”

Dr Gauri Agarwal, Founder & Director, Genestrings Diagnostic and Seeds of Innocence added, “During the pandemic, medical diagnostics emerged as the first line of disease containment and the most important public health measure. The World Health Organization’s T3: Test. Treat. Track. initiative to combat COVID-19 has brought diagnostics to the forefront, emphasising the growing need for better testing capabilities and the importance of quality. People have begun to understand the importance and needs of molecular/genetic testing, and it has invariably resulted in increased investments by large private labs and establishment of more RT PCR labs across the country. In this sense, the government’s collaboration with the private sector, while refocusing on life science, healthcare, and diagnostics, will play a critical role in deciding the future of diagnostics in the country.”

Dinesh Chauhan, CEO, CORE Diagnostics said, “The healthcare sector witnessed a worst hit amidst COVID-19 pandemic, thereby, driving the need for a contingency plan towards recovery and revival of the nation. Although healthcare has been a part of country’s development plan with comprehensive initiatives like Ayushman Bharat, National Digital Health Mission, Swasthya Suraksha Yojna and Mission Covid Suraksha and more, there is a need to allocate additional funds that would ensure universal health coverage to all, especially underprivileged. While it was aptly reflected in the Union budget 2021 which demonstrated deep commitment towards the sector however, there is a lot more to be done. The pandemic has restored the fact that there is an urgent need to bolster innovative, tech-based, large-scale, and affordable healthcare solution in India to ensure quality treatment and cure, especially with the occurrence of the new variants. This requires significant investments in funding research and development sector, which ultimately need public-private partnership push to capture greater space in the heath sector. Lastly, we expect the budget to bring in incentives to enable rapid growth of the sector, in addition to helping more people to get preventive screening and testing done at early stage.”

Jesal Doshi, Deputy CEO, B Medical Systems added, “One of the expectations is for increased allocation in the healthcare sector – across the entire infrastructure, specifically for immunisation. COVID-19 is far from over and it is vital that the country is well prepared to fight the pandemic and any future pandemics, and a reliable medical cold chain is critical for the success of any immunization program. We believe that creating a sub-industry for medical cold chain and separating it from commercial refrigeration, along with reduced GST rates could further boost the sector. The government should reduce import duties on critical components that are essential for manufacturing reliable medical cold chain units. This, along with production-linked incentives will help improve the country’s ability to access world-class medical cold chain products and also improve India’s export competitiveness in this industry.”

Sushil Pasricha, Partner, Bain & Company added, “In pre-COVID era, healthcare expenditure was 1.35 per cent of GDP which is very low compared to other similar economies and COVID-19 has exposed several gaps. In upcoming budget, the expectation should be increased to 2 per cent of GDP, in line with National Health Policy of 2017 (2.5 per cent of GDP in 2025).”

 The government should make health insurance applicable for telehealth services

Stressing on the need to to create and build infrastructural and linked integrated capabilities like telemedicine,  home and senior care Dr Harsh Mahajan, President, NATHEALTH said, “In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to create and build infrastructural and linked integrated capabilities like telemedicine,  home and senior care so that people can access quality and critical healthcare services equitably. The pandemic has made us realise the need of providing hospitals in tier 2 and 3 towns with adequate infrastructure such as diagnostic centers, oxygen beds, ICUs  and oxygen plants through increased budget outlay and greater investments. This will also help in creating employment opportunities and increase health system resilience. The need of the hour is to allocate funds and introduce targetted skilling and medical education programmes which can address the shortage of skilled healthcare manpower in the nation. The sector has not been able to derive the benefits of GST transition. In fact, the embedded taxes in the sector have increased in the post-GST regime compared to pre-GST scenario. Therefore, it is vital to rationalise GST to unlock the embedded credit which is trapped in the healthcare value chain.”

“The PM ABHIM scheme will help to strengthen public health infrastructure in 10 high-focus states. It will help in critical care facilities and primary care in both urban and rural areas, thus enabling the private sector to explore linkages to improve healthcare delivery in the nation. The objective of these recommendations is to build a sustainable healthcare model which will ensure quality healthcare services to all, while offering incentives to private healthcare organisations to increase investments in the sector. These recommendations also aim at supporting the recovery and sustenance of healthcare providers (small, medium, and large) and to drive the policy consensus. The path to achieve a holistic goal of universal healthcare largely depends on collaboration where all stakeholders can work in unison to assist in healthcare service delivery”, he added.

Mythri Macherla, Assistant Vice President & Sector Head, Corporate Sector Ratings, ICRA added, “At ~Rs 74,602 crore, the budgetary allocation for healthcare in FY2022 dropped by 9.8 per cent, if compared to the Revised Estimates for FY2021. The funds earmaked for healthcare, as a percentage of GDP and beds per 10,000 population, continues to be lower for India against most developing nations. Given the ongoing pandemic, ICRA expects a sizeable increase in grants to the sector in the forthcoming budget. Higher allocation is also necessitated to enable the Government achieve its target spend of 2.5 per cent of GDP on healthcare by 2025, from the current sub 1.5 per cent levels. With resurgence in Omicron cases, ICRA expects partial cost towards children’s vaccination and booster shots for the adult population to be a part of the upcoming budgetary allotment towards the sector. To boost investments in the sector, tax incentives for private sector investments in modernising medical facilities and developing greenfield hospitals will be a welcome step. Further, considering the low doctors to people and nurses to people ratio (aggregate density of health workers is 23 per 10,000 population, which is significantly lower than that recommended by WHO), increased allocation towards training medical personnel, in addition to improving infrastructure in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, would be a favourable move.”

Vikram Thaploo, CEO, Apollo Telehealth added, “India is combating a massive global pandemic with its resources available in the health sector. The health sector is expecting more specific allotments in this year’s budget to mitigate COVID-19 and help in the growth of the telemedicine sector. The telemedicine segment is growing at a rapid pace and in the future, we are expecting more technological innovations to take place in the industry therefore, the budget should be well allocated to the healthcare sector to initiate new innovations to be prepared for the fight with pandemics like COVID-19 in the future. It is important especially in a country like India where digital health can truly provide care to areas with short supply of doctors. Increased allocation of budget for promotion of telemedicine, home-based healthcare and national digital health mission implementation will help in building a strong healthcare ecosystem in the country. Telemedicine has potential to improve access to healthcare in remote and rural areas. Home-based healthcare will reduce burden on limited healthcare facilities. Digital Health along with various innovations should be encouraged for India’s future growth in population health. The government should also support private players and startups in this segment to increase the current coverage of the locations including tier-2 and tier-3 cities to provide the advanced healthcare facilities in these areas.”

Sharing his expectation for health insurance sector, Darpan Saini, CEO, Phyt.health said, “Medical expenses have increased over the past two years with COVID taking center stage. Many have lost jobs or have taken pay cuts, resulting in financial stress on families. To ease these problems, the government needs to make digital healthcare affordable. A special focus on making health insurance affordable by reducing GST on premiums from 18 per cent to 5 per cent is a viable option. The government should make health insurance applicable for telehealth services such as doctor consultations or online physiotherapy to help patients recover from the comfort of their home. This is crucial for patients who can’t visit a doctor due to COVID restrictions. Moreover, the FM could also look to increase the limit of deduction under Section 80D from Rs 50k to 1 Lakh – This could help the common man combat the rising healthcare costs.”

Increase health insurance age limit for senior citizens, include provisions to increase coverage, irrespective of existing medical illnesses

Sharing his expectations for elder care service industry, G. Srinivasan, CEO, Athulya added, “The changing dynamics of the healthcare industry post the outbreak of COVID-19 has elucidated the need for enhancing the skills of existing healthcare workers to facilitate better service. Hence, initiatives to motivate youngsters to take up a career in the healthcare industry and to include continuous development programs in their curriculum to enhance their skills will address the current demand for healthcare professionals. To help our senior citizens meet the rising cost of medical treatments we would request to increase the health insurance age limit for senior citizens and to include provisions to increase the coverage, irrespective of existing medical illnesses. To increase the support and guidance given to start-ups, in the form of incentives towards building and developing healthcare technologies that would aid in early detection, monitoring, screening and diagnosis of health ailments. This will reduce our dependence on international companies for the same. We would also expect the government to considerately reduce the taxes imposed on medical equipment that are very essential, which will result in bringing down the overall medical expenses for an individual with ailments and comorbidities. Eventually, helping our senior citizen community to fight the potential escalations in their medical bills. And finally, to increase the tax benefits against their medical expenses and to revise the existing deduction for senior citizens as the cost of living has increased.”

Rajit Mehta, MD and CEO, Antara added, “India does not have a universal pension program for its 1.4 billion people. Most seniors rely on their personal savings for meeting more than 46 per cent of their retirement expenditure. This mismatch clearly outlines an inadequacy and the critical need to streamline and strengthen the pension programs in the country. The Union Budget 2022-23, which will be presented against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic should take into consideration the financial needs of India’s growing senior population and recommend policy measures to help them have income security in their silver years. It should also consider the inclusion of care-at-home services and assisted living facilities under the mandate of health insurance. This will be a crucial step in building a well-rounded senior care ecosystem in India, given the fact that the demand for dependable, specialised, and professional senior care services has witnessed a steady rise, especially after the second wave.”

Dr Vispi Jokhi, Chief Executive Officer, Masina Hospital added, “The expectations from the union budget for the healthcare sector relating to an increase from 1.8 per cent in the outlay of the budget to at least 2.5 per cent of the GDP this year. This has become an oft repeated demand. In view of the state of health care following the devastating effect of the COVID pandemic some concessions to the industry are in order. These relate to relaxation of norms for treating indigent and weaker section patients free of cost and at heavily subsidised cost. The 2 per cent to be set aside for this purpose should be reduced. The cost of compliance relating to fire safety norms and other infrastructure norms need to be reduced by providing special pricing for equipment relating to the same for hospitals. Going forward a policy to deal with pandemics in the future must be formulated where a consultative approach on public-private partnerships is to be adopted.”

Budgetary impetus to develop the innovation ecosystem, support for industry’s R&D efforts and increasing the healthcare expenditure

Talking about the innovation and R&D ecosystem, Poornachandra Tejasvi, Senior Director, Emerging Markets India, Informa Pharma Intelligence said, “India should continue to build on public health programs and provide further momentum to its COVID-19 vaccination effort. Higher public spending on healthcare is critical to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures; healthcare allocation as a percentage of GDP needs to be bolstered sharply. The previous budget referred to plans for critical initiatives under the Aatma Nirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana including setting up mobile hospitals, a national institution for “One Health”, nine Bio-Safety Level III laboratories and four regional National Institutes for Virology. The pandemic has clearly showed these efforts/areas need further acceleration. In addition, if India wants to emerge as an innovation hub moving beyond its prowess in the generics space, it needs to build a vibrant ecosystem. Budgetary impetus to develop the innovation ecosystem, support for industry’s R&D efforts whether by way of tax breaks, further support to the National Research Foundation, other incentives to life science start-ups in cutting edge areas such as cell and gene therapy are all areas that could do with more attention.”

Vivek Tiwari, CEO, Medikabazaar said, “The pandemic exposed the deficiencies in our healthcare infrastructure and now it is imperative for the nation that the allocation to healthcare be increased and raised at least 2.5 per cent of the GDP. This will help to ensure universal healthcare access across the country especially in tier 2, tier 3 centres and beyond. There is a need for enabling policies that will boost and promote public-private partnerships in ramping up healthcare infrastructure and medical equipment manufacturing. Policies that encourage local technology-driven innovations in the field of medical devices are the need of the hour. This will also encourage increasing adoption of healthtech to access healthcare. India has the potential to be a centre for R&D and manufacture of high cost medical equipment and reduce the import dependency. A long term plan to incubate and support innovations across healthcare delivery infra building, patient care, supply chains and advanced equipment manufacturing will help India bridge the structural gaps, generate employment and deliver healthcare as per the growing needs of the vast population of India.”

Sigal Atzmon, Founder and CEO, Medix Global added, “In 2021, we saw an acceleration of digital transformation and innovation in the healthcare system. As we enter into the third year of the pandemic, the union budget must continue to prioritise the healthcare sector. The need to be prepared with adequate healthcare infrastructure is again at the forefront with a third wave sweeping across the country. While the efforts in deploying technology for healthcare have been continuous and widespread, the benefits have often been localised and fragmented. The government’s National Digital Health Mission initiative has the potential to redefine India’s future of healthcare eco-system and adequate investments must be allocated for making it more efficient and a success. We must foster innovation and collaboration between the different stakeholders in the industry to ensure that access to healthcare becomes truly a basic social right and not a privilege.”

Stressing on the need for blended finance facility for healthcare innovations, Dr Ashish Mendhi, Project Director, SAMRIDH said, “The pandemic has demonstrated the need to rapidly reform the healthcare infrastructure. This will require the health sector to focus on three areas – market-ready solutions, cost-effective innovations and healthy investments. Innovative financing models like blended finance can be a crucial enabler to make health enterprises and innovators investible by leveraging philanthropic funding to offset barriers for commercial investments. The government should consider strengthening social entrepreneurship by encouraging commercial lenders to focus on social enterprises by mandating that at least 5 per cent of their overall portfolios be allocated to social enterprises. This will not only ensure much needed impetus to entrepreneurs but also make social impact more enticing for commercial lenders. SBI’s decision to approve the creation of Social Stock Exchanges prioritising social impact investment and social returns represents a positive development in this regard. Also, the government should enable CSR to work with innovative financial models for social causes. This will not only improve the quality of spending but also bring transparency in delivery of developmental projects.”

Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, Managing Director and CEO, Fortis Healthcare added, “Firstly, the outlay for healthcare infrastructure to be increased further. Since the hospital sector is at the forefront as cases in India surge again, facilities in tier 2-3 towns need to be equipped with diagnosis centers, ventilators, ICUS, critical care facilities and oxygen plants. We need  greater investment in NCD programs as comorbidities are driving pandemic deaths and long COVID ailments. There is an urgent need to allocate a separate budget for a national campaign around preventive health, testing and screening as these are key to reduce the overall disease burden in India. The Government needs to also focus on building asset-light models powered by digital health to drive out-of-hospital care, remote monitoring and home care to reduce burden on hospitals. We need to strengthen the digital ecosystem to speed up adoption of new technologies to foster telemedicine for diagnosis and treatment. There needs to be more investment in advanced training and capacity building programs through affordable study tools and courses for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in intensive and critical care, pulmonology, cardiology, oncology, emergency and trauma care. Healthcare should be accorded priority status so that the sector can derive benefit from the GST transition and providers and healthcare service delivery institutions can avail loans at lower rates and extended tenure. It is also essential that the government reduces duty and cess for critical care and life saving equipment and drugs to reduce costs for both providers and patients.”

Stressing on the need for increasing the healthcare expenditure, Debajit Sensharma, Group CFO, Paras Healthcare added, “We expect that the government should look at increasing the healthcare expenditure above 2.5 per cent of GDP and extend the National Health Protection Scheme to all migrant workers, in addition to the BPL population. The need of the hour is to improve healthcare funding with subsidised loans, incentivising CSR investment by making it a tax-deductible expense, and allocating land for new hospitals. The government should also look at allocating a budget to include trauma centers in Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and Community Health Centers (CHCs) as trauma systems result in high financial costs. Our country has the youngest workforce, but with dropping fertility rates and increasing mutations, there will be a huge spike in healthcare expenses over the next couple of decades. The incidence of lifestyle diseases is doubling every 10 years. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to get genome mapping done, which will assist in collecting the much-needed data to discover cures for complex conditions. In order to achieve the same, the government should promote public-private partnerships for genome mapping projects.”

Dr Aashish Chaudhry, Managing Director, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka said, “The sudden emergence of COVID-19 prompted the Indian government to nearly double its healthcare budget year over year. As a result, the most prominent area of focus in Budget 2022 is expected to be healthcare. We anticipate that the government of India will increase its healthcare spending in this budget. The last Budget announced a 137 per cent increase in healthcare spending to address some of the gaps. Healthcare accounted for about 1.8 percent of GDP in 2021. We should aim to raise it to at least 2.5 percent of GDP this year. Despite the focus on the Covid-19 pandemic at the moment, it is critical to increase the proportion of spending on preventive healthcare and wellness. Ayushman Bharat is undeniably a positive step toward achieving the goal of universal healthcare; however, more funding is required to ensure its long-term success.”

Dr Sujit Chatterjee, CEO, L H Hiranandani Hospital added, “My first expectation from the Union Budget is that it should have a realistic view of healthcare. The Union Government must spend a healthy 3.5 per cent of GDP on healthcare. There needs to be a contingency fund with RBI to be released in case there is a pandemic like situation again and that money should be released first to the state that is most affected. There has to be a tax holiday for the healthcare sector for the next FY for it to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Import duty should be reduced to the bare minimum on all medical equipment for India to keep at the breast with the rest of the world. There should be a focus on rural health and the Government should have innovative incentive schemes for doctors to be able to serve in rural areas and be given reserved seats for PG. Those in the rural area must be given a salary equal to the latest pay commission with equal perks. Rural health schemes must be implemented with greater vigor and accountability affixed. Government of India must realise that we need a healthy Nation to be able to fight at the border and also to grow into a 5 trillion dollar economy!!”

Sugandh Ahluwalia Chief of Strategy, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre said, “As we enter the third year of the pandemic, our expectations for Budget 2022 are for increased spending on healthcare. India’s total healthcare expenditure is significantly lower than that of other countries. The pandemic has highlighted the critical need for high-quality public hospitals. More public-private partnerships, as well as additional investments, are required to strengthen indigenous manufacturing of medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE), and raw materials for drugs. Hence, the government must allocate more budget for the healthcare industry. Furthermore, higher tax breaks for the private sector to modernise medical facilities will go a long way toward ensuring better healthcare, more investments, and thus more jobs.”

Talking about the same, Dr Ankit Gupta, Managing Director, Park Group of Hospitals said, “In the budget, more funds should be allocated to health expenditure. Incentives should be provided to the private sector so that they can establish COVID Care Centers. A Medical Innovation Fund should be set up to provide capital to companies promoting digital healthcare infrastructure. Many startups are utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to provide detailed reports to patients regarding medical conditions. India is also a popular medical tourism destination due to the availability of skilled labour. Hence, the government should ease visa restrictions and create more green corridors in order to promote medical tourism. We hope that the upcoming budget will serve as a source of motivation for the entire sector, fostering new innovations and development.”

Praveen Sikri, CEO, Ikris Pharma Network said, “In the shadow of the pandemic and the ongoing battle against the virus, the budget should focus on the following areas: first, healthcare expenditure as a proportion of GDP must be raised to at least 2.5 per cent if not more. Second, in view of the rising frequency of infectious diseases, the government must allocate enough resources for genetic and genome research, epidemiological studies besides hiking allocations for general healthcare-related R&D. Third, the budget must also provide for increased investment into infrastructure-building in terms of more critical care and ICU facilities and diagnostic labs along with ambulatory and home care. Fourth, smaller towns and the hinterland too should get sufficient public and private health infrastructure. Accordingly, the private sector should be encouraged with easy and inexpensive loan availability, tax exemptions and other financial and policy support through this budget. Fifth, similar encouragement must also be extended to the pharma and medical device sector.  Sixth, the budget should also earmark funds for ramping up infrastructure for medical education and training with an eye on elevating the quality and quantity of our healthcare manpower.”

Upendra Nath Sharma, Partner, J Sagar Associates (JSA) said, “Healthcare Sector will continue to assume limelight in the Union Budget for FY 2022-23. Post the turmoil created by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the nation was trying come to terms with the ‘new normal’, we have a new variant of the virus, in terms of Omicron, which is spreading like wildfire. While the consequences may not be as severe as the second wave, it continues to remain a cause of worry and there could be more such variants in future. Hence, it is but fair to expect the government to provide utmost priority to healthcare sector in the coming budget. Also, in view of the targets under the National Health Policy, 2017, aspects like digital integration of India’s healthcare records and further strengthening the healthcare infrastructure of the country, will continue to be in focus.”

Dr Rajan Thakur, Chairman & Managing Director, Heart Hospital Patna said, “This year the medical fraternity battled one of the toughest challenges of saving the lives of billions of Indians from the deadly second wave of coronavirus. The challenge has also highlighted the need of developing a robust medical infrastructure that is affordable, modern and most importantly for all. The country will remember the selfless service of frontline workers including doctors, nurses, medical staff, volunteers, etc who lost their lives while saving the patients. As we move forward to a better future, there is a strict need to pay attention to strengthening the health infrastructure in the country, mainly in tier-2,3 cities or non-metros. This will not only reduce the burden on Indian metros but will make healthcare accessible to all. India will require a large number of doctors and medical staff in the future and therefore, proper education and training also have to be ensured.”
Gautam Khanna, CEO, P. D. Hinduja Hospital & MRC and Co – Chair, FICCI Health Services Committee, President, Association of Hospitals, Mumbai added, “Even though the healthcare spends have considerably increased in the last few years, we would still urge the government to increase the healthcare expenditure above 2.5 per cent of the GDP and extend the National Health Protection Scheme to all migrant workers. Several hospitals, big and small, have made significant investments to tackle COVID. We would recommend the benefits of section 35 AD of the Act under capital expenditure, which was extended to hospitals with 100 beds or more should be made available to all hospitals from 01.04.2020. This would also encourage setting up of hospitals / nursing homes in smaller towns/rural areas. It is also recommended that healthcare industry be treated on par with other industries by bringing it under the definition of Industrial Undertaking under provisions 72 of IT act., which will enable tax losses of healthcare Industry be carried forward and set off against future profits. As healthcare was introduced in the harmonised master list of Infrastructure sub sectors by RBI in 2012, long term financing options (as available to other sectors accorded infrastructure status), should be made available to healthcare also, in some form or the other. Keeping the pandemic experiences in mind, thrust must be given to Medical Research, with private and public sector hospitals supporting government bodies like ICMR.

Anurag Yadav, CEO, IHH Healthcare India said, “The last budget got a cut in health expenditure, which came as a surprise to all as we were still fighting the pandemic. Whereas, actually it was an indicator that the government perceives that the worst is behind us and we are now on the path of economic recovery. Thus this year’s budget allocation will show us how the government perceives the future position of the pandemic. Additionally, since the pandemic has exposed so many fault lines in the healthcare system, there is a dire need for investment in good medical infrastructure. This will not only help us for any future pandemic but will also improve the state of healthcare in the country even more. The idea is to make healthcare available and affordable to all fellow citizens, which is only possible through the collective efforts of public-private partnerships.”

Dheeraj Jain, Founder, Redcliffe Labs, said, “The ongoing pandemic has put the healthcare sector in the spotlight. The Govt of India has been very supportive to companies working in the healthcare domain. Diagnostic companies to be specific are using advanced technologies in the early diagnosis and predictive analysis that give healthcare experts an early insight into complex health conditions. The upcoming budget is expected to be more focused on increased investments for R&D in terms of developing new technologies that enable faster and efficient healthcare delivery at affordable costs. Tax deduction on import duties of diagnostic equipments, beneficial tax rates to attract investments and considering healthcare for zero-rated GST can be crucial steps by the government in the advancement of the sector. Another welcome step would be to promote medical education in the country to increase the number of skilled healthcare workers which is the need of the hour. The major focus of the Budget 2022 in regards to the healthcare sector should be increased healthcare expenditure to cater to – upgradation of medical infrastructure, shortage of medical manpower in India, improve healthcare funding with subsidized loans, training of skilled workforce.  The budget should also promise investment in the development of ICU facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and fertility treatments as these medical expertise areas have the potential to attract revenues and become an important element in India’s overall growth. Most importantly, depending upon the budget structure, insurance companies can play a vital role in covering fertility treatments under health insurance as only maternity costs are covered until now by the companies.”

Dr Vivek Talaulikar, CEO, Global Hospital said, “There is an urgency to come up with long-term strategies and roadmaps to put in place a system to deal with the future pandemics. The pandemic has put spotlight on the state of PHCs in rural areas and highlighted their significance in early detection of cases and providing quick help before health conditions become more severe. We hope that the government will continue spending on the healthcare sector in the upcoming budget, as India is yet to fully vaccinate its population and Covid-19 is far from over with new variants being reported across the world. The current spending of India remains 1.2 per cent  to 1.6 per cent of GDP, which is much low compared to other major economies. The Economic Survey 2020-21 observes the overall out-of-pocket expenses in India on healthcare are 60 per cent of the total expense on public health. Therefore, in order to overcome the twin challenge of rise in non-communicable and infectious diseases, it is imperative that the public spending on healthcare is increased to 4.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the next 7-10 years.”

Kamal Narayan Omer, Founder & CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council added, “This year, we all look forward to a budget that will ensure social health protection to the needy and disadvantaged. First and foremost, there should be a tax reduction on any form of treatment related to the Coronavirus. Ever since the pandemic struck us, both the Government of India and state governments have provided financial assistance to the infected people and their families. However, it has been seen that many people have been deprived of it. So, providing tax relief for such financial expenses will help all and sundry, especially to the poor citizens. A complete tax relief and an extension of it will also immensely benefit two groups of people. One, the middle-class taxpayers. Two, people who still don’t have medical insurance. While the Section 80D currently allows a deduction of medical expenditure only for senior citizens, the same should be provided to people irrespective of age. Secondly, including all life-saving drugs in the generic category is a must. Thirdly, and most importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinstated the importance of having basic healthcare across the country, especially in the rural set-ups. In India, over 75 per cent of the healthcare infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas and there is a serious degradation in the quality or infrastructure in the rural areas. In fact, tens of thousands of patients in the rural areas are still in the hands of quacks and unscientific medical practices. The villagers travel a long distance to the nearest hospital in case of emergencies and the only viable transportation is private transport which many cannot afford because of their financial condition. Therefore, there is a growing need to create and deploy innovative technologies to ensure last-mile delivery of basic healthcare services, even in the hinterlands.”

Dr Anish Desai, Founder & CEO, IntelliMed Healthcare Solutions said, “Making finance available at low interest rates for hospitals and diagnostic chains & making it one of the priority infrastructure in the sector is critical. GST and import duties need to be minimal on life saving drugs and devices. Investments in R&D & medical research need to be encouraged and positive steps are needed in this direction, with financial allocation for the same. This will help to boost the domestic healthcare sector. International companies need to be encouraged to have R&D and manufacturing in India in collaboration with domestic players to enhance the capabilities of the local players and make state of art technology available to Indian patients.”

Vishal Bali, Executive Chairperson, Asia Healthcare Holdings said, “The multiple waves of the pandemic are exposing India’s demand – supply gap in healthcare across infrastructure, people, technology. Budget 2022 must remain focused on increased allocation to the healthcare sector and fast track the bridging of the gap. Public healthcare spending on healthcare needs urgent reform and a clear allocation of 2.5 per cent of GDP in real terms and not under a consolidation of allocations to various schemes and depts related to health and sanitation. Strengthing primary healthcare both at urban and rural level with allocation and execution should be a key priority to develop the tiered healthcare system of the country. The government’s push for financing healthcare infrastructure development can also be aided through the issuance of GOI backed healthcare bonds.”

“Indigenisation of medical technology needs more steps under the Make in India program both for local and international players to make India a manufacturing hub for medical technologies. In addition to this, reinstatement of the weighted deduction for R&D expenditure to encourage innovation of new products and technologies, particularly in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry should become the need of the hour for the country. Technology enablement has the power to redefine healthcare access in India, last mile connectivity acceleration can create a new power of disease surveillance, population healthcare data management and enablement of healthcare services and products. The government should also look at accelerating rural internet connectivity to support education and healthcare services”, he added.

Himesh Joshi, CEO & Co Founder, Ayu Health Hospitals said, “As the country is gearing up for the third wave of the pandemic, the expectations are for greater budget allocation this year into the healthcare sector primarily for genetic research, aiding technology for early diagnosis in order to boost the capacity of our healthcare system to detect and cure new and emerging diseases in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the schemes like Ayushman Bharath were a step in the right direction, there is scope for amendments in the pricing structure  where hospitals can provide high-quality healthcare services without incurring losses and also ease in the issues of delayed payouts to hospitals which are stretching into months for some schemes. The Government could bring in a model to incentivise the private healthcare sector to ramp up infrastructure that could benefit the public at large  and set in motion for a strong healthcare system in the country. The government should also work towards ensuring adequate budget allocation towards various government schemes and ensure faster payouts to hospitals, which in turn will incentivize more hospitals to accept these plans.”

Karan Talreja, Founder, Reset Tech added, “The government has started multiple initiatives in last two years to cater the requirements of healthcare infrastructure in the country. We probably need focused investment and spread awareness around lifestyle diseases for betterment of the people. Since the third wave has already forged in and it has made everyone realise the importance of a robust healthcare ecosystem. Therefore, expected from the government to invest for the evolution of resources that enable the monitoring of the lifestyle related diseases of populations. Hence, there is a demand for a separate budget allocation for Indian startups ventured into deep technologies for augmentation of holistic solutions to lifestyle diseases. Expectation from the industry is the process of research and development to continue extensively which demands proper financial support that needs to be fulfilled by the government.Industry has received great support from the government as well to support the startup ecosystem. Hence as the way forward we are expecting more support and encouragement to match the global industry standard and cater to the common people as per their needs and requirements.”

Dr HR Nagendra, President-VYASA and Chancellor-S-VYASA shared, “We hope the government will allot substantially more funding in the new budget for research to expedite and facilitate high end research. As the government is already spending and investing a lot in the health sector, it is necessary to allot substantially more funds for the AYUSH Sector. Also, we are suggesting the government to allot dedicated funds for top Institutions, research scholars and young doctors for supporting and encouraging them to work hard and discover more vaccines, Pharma drugs and effective non pharma formulations in AYUSH. This will help boost the government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat Mission.”

Dr Surendra k Chikara, Founder & CEO, Bione said, “In the 2022 budget, we feel that the government should move positively to recognise the important role genetic testing including DTC Genetic testing can play in preventive healthcare. We would highly welcome any measures to boost private-sector R&D in the biotechnology segment in the manner it rightly deserves. This will go a long way towards making quality preventive healthcare affordable.”

Ashutosh Kaushik, Interim CEO, FRHS India and CAG member, Pratigya Campaign said, “The FY2021 budget announced a 137 per cent increase in healthcare spending to address some of the gaps. Healthcare accounted for about 1.8 per cent of GDP in 2021. We should aim to raise it to at least 3.5 per cent of GDP this year. While COVID-19 pandemic is important and there has to be a focus, it is equally important to increase the proportion of spending on other aspects like SRHR services considering medical abortion pills and abortion access to ensure safe abortion practices for long term. This would reduce rates of adolescent pregnancy, increase awareness for birth spacing which will provide a critical window for mothers to have healthier, safer pregnancies. Furthermore, the budget should focus on increasing the budget for family welfare to ensure adequate supply of contraceptives methods and Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) to meet reproductive health needs. Investing in promoting health education in schools and colleges to enable adolescents to take charge of their own health needs. Strengthen response to gender-based violence, a growing public health concern.”

Debanjana Choudhuri, Gender and Climate Justice Specialist said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the significance of having a robust healthcare system in the country. The healthcare sector, which has proven to be a shield against the pandemic since 2020, seeks increased outlays in expenditure in the upcoming Union Budget 2022. Healthcare allocation must be raised to achieve govt plans of spending 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2025. There is an immediate need to increase the allocation for health expenditure to atleast 2.5 per cent-3.5 per cent of the GDP. The issues that exited last year continues to exist and therefore it is important to establish quality health care services across the country, and increase investments in sexual and reproductive health, while also bringing about focus to contraceptive and safe abortion access in particular by expanding the provider base and prioritizing women’s health, which will have positive impact on the overall health of the country.”

Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder & Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals said, “As India faces the worst ever health crisis of all times, we hope that COVID-19 will at least provide the silver lining in increasing the healthcare budget. There has never been a greater spotlight on healthcare delivery in various environments. No election has unfortunately been fought on healthcare as an issue in India yet. But now with the coronavirus pandemic, the focus is only and squarely on healthcare. I hope that this will lead to an increase in the healthcare budget and various healthcare provisions so that the expenditure spend on health should go up to 3 percent of the GDP as promised by the government.”

Dr Shubhang Aggarwal, Director, NHS Hospital, Jalandhar said, “We are expecting that the upcoming budget under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a special focus on increasing the healthcare expenditure substantially more than 2.5% of GDP and extending the National Health Protection Scheme for all when the cases of COVID are again on rise.  The Ayushmann scheme is becoming a success but the rates need to be rationalised so more private hospitals adopt it, even if its under their CSR activities. There is an urgent need to improve healthcare funding through subsidised loans and  allocating land for new hospitals especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities where quality healthcare is still a challenge. The use of innovative technologies should be incentivised so that health protection is available and extended to the disadvantaged,”

Dr S. Narayani, Zonal Director, Fortis Hospitals added, “Healthcare was one of the first pillars of budget allocation last year and should continue to be an important aspect in this year’s Union Budget as well. Since the pandemic hit us, we have seen the need for and importance of an even stronger healthcare sector in India. We need to pave the way for more Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP). Secondly, there has been a growing concern for healthcare infrastructure in India which can be addressed with increased budgets in Research & Development, medical equipment procurement, development of more hospitals, and improving the overall infrastructure. In India there is a lack of a skilled healthcare workforce, a dedicated budget should be allocated to address the need to create sufficient manpower and for skill development of paramedical staff, nurses, etc. Focusing on healthcare and meeting these needs will help us prepare for years to come.”

Dr Tushar Grover, Medical Director, Vision Eye Centre, New Delhi said, “With omicron spreading now and the so-called third wave being finally upon us, healthcare has again become one of the biggest focus areas for governments as well as individuals. As such, the government must raise the healthcare budget considerably at least to the extent that the entire health machinery including our public health systems are prepared to deal with emergency health situations such as the ongoing pandemic efficiently and without much damage to people’s health. Secondly, given the rising frequency of infectious diseases, the government must invest enough through this budget into genetic research, vaccine and immunisation research apart from other avenues of research including epidemiology and biotechnology. Thirdly, the private sector whether it is the healthcare providers or the pharma sector must be given policy and economic support in the form of tax rebate, easy loans, utility payment relaxations and exemptions in order for them to grow themselves and make India a self-reliant healthcare power while bolstering the health defences of our people. And fourthly, there is a need to bridge the urban-rural and big town-small town gap in terms of availability of health infrastructure, equipment and personnel. Healthcare services, both public and private sectors need to be strengthened tremendously in rural areas and small towns”

Saransh Chaudhary, President, Global Critical Care, Venus Remedies and CEO, Venus Medicine Research Centre (VMRC) said, “In line with the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative, the Union Budget should lay a framework to make India the pharmacy of the world with focus on self-sufficiency. Since this can be best achieved by building on the manufacturing and research capabilities of the Indian pharmaceutical industry, the government should go about it by announcing incentives and grants for cost-intensive research, particularly in critical care segments like antimicrobial resistance. All the material procured by pharma firms for R&D purposes should be exempted from customs duty and GST. While as per existing DSIR notifications, there is already provision for partial waivers and/or reduction of custom duty and GST on import of certain items, a complete waiver would further help in setting up a world-class R&D infrastructure. The government should enable our R&D-driven pharma companies to compete with top global innovators and secure a significant market share by offering interest subsidies and lower GST on clinical trials and research activities, giving tax concessions to exporters and restoring weighted tax deduction under Section 35(2AB). The Finance Minister should also earmark funds to strengthen the pharma supply chain and distribution infrastructure and integrate it with latest digital technologies. This will not only ensure improved access and uninterrupted deliveries in real time, but will also lead to cost reduction and quality improvement, thus making Indian pharma companies far more competitive.”

Jayant Khosla, MD & Group Head, VLCC Health Care said, “The adverse economic impact and the oft repeated lives-versus-livelihood debate apart, the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has amply demonstrated that being healthy and fit has become more consequential than ever before, with now more and more people across age groups embracing proactive health management and giving attention to nurture their mind, body and soul. The government would do well to capitalize on this trend. It is now time that that preventive healthcare gets larger attention while planning these allocations for the sector. Investment in preventive healthcare will help increase longevity and overall productivity of people. Preventive healthcare check-ups could be made mandatory and diseases could be treated with subsidised medicines and access to better health enhancement services such as wellness clinics, dietary consultations and sports activities, etc. The spend on preventive healthcare activities should be considered for tax exemption up to a limit in addition to mediclaim insurance which is covered for curative measures.  It is worth encouraging investment in preventive healthcare measures which will considerably reduce the curative health spend in a higher proportion. Also like curative service providers are provided exemptions from GST, we could also include this to preventive healthcare services providers like wellness clinics and obesity management services in order to make it more accessible.”

Build a system where eye health services are accessible for everyone

RN Mohanty, CEO, Sightsavers India said, “In the last budget, the major focus was on the health sector and although efforts were made to reduce the prevalence of blindness and we have been very successful in improving cataract surgery rates (CSR) however, the biggest drawbacks to reducing the prevalence of blindness are still increasing. This year, we are expecting that the government allocates a suitable budget for the healthcare sector where we can build a system where eye health services are accessible for everyone despite the pandemic situation in the future ”

Mental health space should be given more priority

Sharing his expectation from budget for mental health space, Dr Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee, Poddar Foundation said, “India’s mental healthcare system had several gaps even before the pandemic, and the situation has been exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. In the last budget i.e. the Union Budget 2021-22, the budget for the National Mental Health Program (NMHP) remained the same as last year – Rs 40 crore. Proposing only INR 40 crore for NMHP will leave the country unprepared and unable to deal with the requirements of the population, especially with the increasing mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While increasing the budget allocation for NMHP is the need of the hour, other overlapping and related sectors such as social welfare schemes (example – NREGA, one stop centres for survivors of Domestic Violence, scheme for the welfare of persons with disabilities) also require additional funding. It is not just about increasing budgets, unless it is accompanied by engagement with grass-root level mental healthcare. The government must set up counselling centers, drive aggressive promotional health campaigns encouraging people to consult with psychologists and psychiatrists as well as invest in community health physicians and public health professionals to strengthen mental health epidemiology and engagement in preventive care.”

Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET) added, “The Union Budget 2022-23 needs to put focus not only on India’s overall healthcare but also categorically on India’s mental healthcare. A substantial budgetary allocation can pave the way for infrastructure to be rapidly developed and comprehensive mental healthcare made accessible everywhere, especially in the rural areas, so that all those who need help can get it in timely manner. India’s mental health issues have remained neglected for far too long. It is time we take concrete steps and start caring for those who are suffering silently.”

Positive change for the rural population in terms of accessibility and affordability to primary healthcare

Shweta Agnihotri, COO, Cartula Health India said, “The upcoming budget will be driven keeping in mind the pandemic situation. 2021 has been a year of innovation across sectors and I believe telemedicine is one of the upcoming innovative sectors under the healthcare umbrella. I am expecting that the government will allocate funds on resource development to monitor the present health status of the population and deliver accurate healthcare services digitally. I also look forward to this year’s budget creating a positive change for the rural population in terms of accessibility and affordability to primary healthcare and opening the gates for easy-to-understand and hassle-free technologies that can penetrate deep in the country reaching the last mile and making healthcare available for all.

The wellness industry should be on par with the business industry

Mugdha Pradhan, CEO and Founder, iThrive expects budget to give equal priority to the wellness sector. She added, “The FDI investment process should be simplified, and taxation-related compliances should be kept to a minimum. As the medical industry does not pay GST and wellness being a part of it, the GST rate for wellness services should be 5 per cent rather than the current 18 per cent. In terms of GST, the wellness industry should be on par with the business industry.”

Nupur Khandelwal, Co-Founder, Navia Life Care said, “COVID has undoubtedly highlighted the significance of a robust healthcare system in the country and has shown the world that you are only as strong as your healthcare systems. The Centre’s Budgetary allocation to the healthcare sector should be increased to at least 2.5 per cent of the GDP to bridge several gaps that currently exist in the system. Further, tech driven-innovative healthcare solutions have played a pivotal role in fighting mankind’s biggest health crisis and healthcare providers have embraced these solutions to solve for accessibility. This year’s budget should focus on encouraging these solutions by way of tax benefits/ tax holidays and even establishing a healthcare innovation fund. Lastly, the launch of ABDM was a positive step for ensuring easy access and creating the much-needed digital backbone for the healthcare sector. However, more funding should be allocated to ABDM to accelerate the nationwide rollout and to ensure its long-term success.”

Shivam Singhee, CEO & Co-Founder, Awshad said, “We hope to see the government will expand on these schemes and help home-grown brands grow and thrive in the Indian market. We also hope there will be incentives in place to help Indian brands expand their markets internationally and help bring FDI to the exponentially growing wellness sector. We also hope the government will offer more tax relaxation to startups in the wellness space to help them compete with giant multinationals eyeing to control this sector.”

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