Will Budget 2021 like ‘never before’ focus on health sector in the time of COVID-19 pandemic?

The report showed that Indians routinely shell out more than 70 per cent of health expenses from their own pockets.

The Coronavirus pandemic has sharply pointed out the looming conditions of the country’s health sector which also offered a window to revisit the country’s health policy. One can only hope that this pandemic may have propelled the Centre to significantly increase spending on public health in the coming fiscal. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has already spoken of a Budget like “never before” and hinted at an increased emphasis on healthcare in FY22.

Oxfam report shows that the country’s expenditure on health as a percentage of the total budget is the fourth-lowest anywhere in the world. A higher budgetary allocation will also shift the focus to Indian manufacturers and domestic supply chain of products, and this is the opportune time to boost healthcare infrastructure besides also pushing for greater technology deepening.

India’s budgeted spend for healthcare at Rs 67,112 crore was just about 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2020-21 budget. The report showed that Indians routinely shell out more than 70 per cent of health expenses from their own pockets. Only half the population in this country has access to even the most basic healthcare services. The government data shows that India has just about 5.5 beds per 10,000 population and this is nearly a fifth of the global average.

The government has continued to turn a deaf year to all the demands of the increase in spending on the health sector. Even in 2020-21, our allocation on health remained a fraction of that on defence and infrastructure sectors. The allocation was only about half the sum demanded by the ministry of health and family welfare and just over 5 per cent of the Centre’s total budgeted expenditure.

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