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Budget pill for healthcare sector

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Budget pill for healthcare sector
Posted On: 25-Feb-2015

Budget pill for healthcare sector

Abhay Soi, Bengaluru, Feb 24, 2015:

The Budget 2015-16 must give a fillip to the country’s fledgling healthcare system and a roadmap to ensure proactive participation of private sector in realising the dream of “Healthcare for All” by 2020.

In India, healthcare is at an evolving stage. It is expanding very fast and yet the masses do not have access to quality health care. There is a huge scope for the private sector which can play a significant role in taking healthcare to every doorstep.

At present, over 65 per cent healthcare delivery in India is from the private sector. This share is expected to go up to 80 per cent over the next five years. India envisages achieving the goal of Healthcare for All by 2020, which can be achieved only by creating a proper policy environment in the country for which the Centre needs to introduce some corrective measures in the Union Budget for 2015-16, especially for the private sector.

Some of the key challenges being faced by private sector players include long drawn, multi-department approval process for greenfield hospital projects while lower insurance penetration limits the ability of masses to access private healthcare. A myth is spread that private sector healthcare is inaccessible for the poor as its cost is high and those running private hospitals are blamed for all this, which is wrong. The fact is investment in private sector health setup is so high that one cannot afford offering concessional services to the needy beyond a point.

Unfeasible price caps being put by the government insurance companies on packages, especially for tertiary care, is leading to voluntary depanelment by leading private healthcare players from these insurance companies. It is an area which needs to be revisited by the Centre on priority basis. The archaic labour laws constraining the redevelopment of existing old hospitals across the country is another area of concern.

There is undue delay in clearing payments to private hospitals by government bodies like CGHS, ECHS and ESI for treating their patients. Similarly, there is no or limited regulatory control on small and unorganised healthcare set-ups which lead to sub-standard quality of care and poor outcomes.

What is the way out? The government must put in place a single window for all clearances for hospitals with a target capacity of over 300 beds. Hospital activities should be declared as essential services and no strikes should be allowed. The exemption of service tax on hospital services should continue.

Need for incentive plan
However, since a vast chunk of our population lives in rural areas, there is a need to develop an incentive plan for doctors to stay in rural areas and provide medical care to the needy. In conjunction with state governments, the Centre must develop modular housing for interns and resident doctors working in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) before embarking upon compulsory stay in rural areas.

The private sector must also be included in rolling out mass public health programmes and to control the spread of infectious diseases. The sector is doing a sterling job in swine flu treatment. On the lines of pulse-polio campaigns, government can roll out programmes targeting diabetes, tuberculosis and breast cancer, oral cavity cancer etc. Challenges being faced by Indian health sector in general are multifarious. From the poor penetration of health insurance to the lack of incentives to those in health sector, there are many issues affecting the sector.

A lot can be done so far as Medical Value Tourism (MVT) is concerned. Propelled by the private sector, MVT can be India’s largest export after Information Technology (IT), if the Centre provides right kind of impetus to this vital sector. We are aware that besides being the largest provider of well-trained doctors, nurses and technicians to the world, India is also among the most cost effective in healthcare delivery. What is needed is the right kind of policy approach, better synergy between health providers and policy makers. With its progressive outlook, we are certain the Centre will strengthen tourism thereby giving a fillip to MVT.

The 5Ts – talent, tourism, trade, technology and tradition, which forms the basis of MVT, is needed along with a conducive policy environment. Buoyed by the spirit of optimism and a firm vision that he displays, the private healthcare sector is certain that the first NDA government Budget would bring out several progressive reforms to set right the many ailments that affect this industry.

(The writer is CMD, Radiant Life Care, which manages New Delhi’s BLK Super Speciality Hospital and
Mumbai’s Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital)

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