Let Health be the First Wealth, Mrs Nirmala Ma’am
– Budget 2019 Analysis by Dhananjay Kumar, Executive Editor, Medicare News
This is the Union Government that made Healthcare an indispensable component of electoral politics. This is the government that brought game changer Ayushman Bharat, the biggest government funded healthcare scheme, also popularly called Modicare.
But, strangely, this is the government in its 2.0 avatar that also happens to be the one to banish the word Health completely from the text of Union Budget while proclaiming the target of being in league of 5 trillion strong economies, little realizing that it is the health that underpins any robust economy. This is why even PM Modi’s hard- boiled health leader supporters have been left askance.
Look at it along the eternally unsolved question ‘what first egg or hen?’ As to the question, what first health or economy, health would indisputably precede economy. But India probably has been the only country in the world that thinks economy comes first. Strange! Isn’t it? Perhaps this is the reason that in terms of health indices we are behind even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
World’s big economies bear out that they first addressed their human resources before going gung ho for economies. Health is the first wealth that needs to be created. Investing big in health should be a priority to be able to become a robust economy. But in India health spending is still far below meagre 2 percent of GDP. It was 1.2 percent of GDP in 2013-14 and became 1.4 percent in 2017-18, a damp squib.
Ayushman Bharat, target of creation of 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres, Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (BJP) and capping of prices of life saving medicines and medical devices unveiled by PM Modi 1 undoubtedly constitute the recipe for complete overhaul of healthcare system. The union budget in Modi 2.0 should have reinforced its intent to turn around ramshackle public health system. There was an expectation of higher allocation for Ayushman Bharat but its absence disappointed. Had the Union Finance Minster Nirmala Sitaraman emphasised resolve for a Healthy India in the budget, the 5 trillion aspirations would have sounded more credible.
There should have been a clear indication of the intent to raise public health expenditure to at least 2.5 % of GDP. But it was missing. IMA (Indian Medical Association) has called it a huge disappointment. Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman, Aster DM Healthcare, a great votary of Ayshman Bharat, calling it his opportunity to serve poor patients, could not help saying there is not much about healthcare in the budget to sing about. Dr Prathap C Reddy, Chairman, Apollo group of Hospitals, though downplayed his disappointment, suggested as much by saying that while India strives to attain its laudable aim of becoming 5 trillion strong economy, his group would do its duty of fighting tsunami of non communicable diseases.
Summing up, Madam Finance Minster would be well advised to let health be the first wealth.