Budget 2022-23: Healthcare & Pharma Sector Expectations

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Health care & Pharmaceutical Industry expectations from Budget 2022: As Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is all set to present her third Union Budget on February 1, 2022.

Here’s what the Health care and Pharma experts expects from Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman:

Dr Arjun Kalyanpur, Chief Radiologist & CEO, Teleradiology Solutions:

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An accurate diagnosis is essential for good patient care. Teleradiology is a tech enabled health care service. As one of the leading providers of teleradiology in India, we would like to see growth of this sector in India as it can revolutionise early high-quality diagnostics. A nationwide teleradiology solution and service for low-income patients funded by the government could enable this. Made in India low-cost diagnostic scanners need to be encouraged with state level med tech parks with tax breaks and set up costs covered.

Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Founder & Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals:

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 spent on health should go up to 3 percent of the GDP as promised by the government.

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Dr. Shubhang Aggarwal, Director, NHS Hospital, Jalandhar:

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 it’s 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.

Debajit Sensharma, Group CFO, Paras Healthcare:

To begin with, we would like to thank the government for the support provided during and ongoing tough times. Going forward, we expect that the government should look at increasing the healthcare expenditure above 2.5% 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 subsidized loans, incentivizing 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. 

Dr. Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee, Poddar Foundation:  

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. Another important aspect for the government to consider is including all the life-saving drugs in the generic category and providing tax cuts on these drugs. However, providing adequate funding for the healthcare sector is needed at this hour, as it will have a substantial impact on the whole economy.

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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. 

The government also needs to set up bodies that recognise community level organisations and NGOs working in the mental health space and provide funds to them so that they can continue their work.

Dr. Tushar Grover, Medical Director, Vision Eye Centre, New Delhi:

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 immunization research apart from other avenues of research including epidemiology and biotechnology. 

Dr. Ankit Gupta, Managing Director, Park Group of Hospitals:

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.

The healthcare sector should be the focus of this year’s budget. India is facing a new challenge in the form of Omicron, and many more Covid waves are expected in the coming years. As a result, it is critical to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure. 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 utilizing 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.

KR Raghunath, Senior Chairman, Jindal Naturecure Institute:

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. During the pandemic, PM Modi has given the much-needed push to the AYUSH sector as he encouraged India’s world-class R&D enablement and manufacturing capabilities. We are looking forward to more promising announcements from Budget 2022. 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. Apart from yoga, the government should promote naturopathy, make it a part of school and college curriculums, and set up a committee to introduce naturopathy practices in universities. Standardising naturopathy practice is critical as it will enable us to lay down strict standards that have to be adhered to by all Naturopaths and conducting mass awareness campaigns to educate the masses is the right way forward.

Nupur Khandelwal, Co-Founder, Navia Life Care:

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% 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.

Dr. Preet Pal Thakur, Co-founder, Glamyo Health:

Healthcare, for obvious reasons,  is likely to be the sector of focus in this financial budget. As a Health tech startup focussed on elective surgeries, I personally would wish that the GST on Health insurance premiums be removed – a step which will accelerate the insurance penetration in masses and removing inequity in healthcare access. Specifically for the start up ecosystem, I would request the honourable finance minister to tax the ESOPs only at the exercise. There is still some ambiguity. It will help start-ups like Glamyo Health to hire and retain good quality talent as we scale this year to 40 plus cities in India.

Krishna Veer Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, Lissun:

Fair and impartial digital focus on healthcare is the need of the hour. We hope the government allocates more funds to health-tech, enabling even the rural population to fall under its ambit. Owing to India’s young population, SaaS is maturing, and health-tech would help stabilize the shortage of medical manpower in the country. More budget in health-tech would also make it a lucrative space for investments and start-ups, in turn helping the government to achieve its aim of 1:1000 doctor/patient ratio by 2024, which is a WHO recommended norm. 

Besides, the pandemic has taught us that creating home care health infrastructure is an absolute necessity. Investment in health-tech can bridge this long and short-term industry gap. Moreover, we have seen mental health cases rise in the past year. However, insurers in India seldom offer policies that cover non-hospitalization treatments or OPD reimbursements. This means that unless mentally ailing patients get hospitalized, they won’t be eligible for coverage. Insurance covers, thus, naturally exclude therapy and psychiatric counselling coverages. IRDA should push for OPD reimbursements for psychology therapy and counselling.

Priyadarshi Mohapatra, Founder, CureBay:

It is indeed heart-warming to see how the healthcare industry has been tirelessly helping the country in sailing through the pandemic crisis. The sector has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the country efficiently battles with the coronavirus and will continue to align its efforts for the benefit of the citizens. We appreciate the fact that the government acknowledges this and has contributed to upscaling the market by launching initiatives such as the PLI scheme for domestic manufacturing of Drug Intermediaries, National Digital Health Mission, etc. However, the healthcare sector still requires a lot of support for sustained growth.

We do agree with the fact that COVID-19 induced healthcare transformation in India, however, we need to raise the public health spending to 2.5-3.5% of the GDP to keep supporting the healthcare revolution. We would also like to request the government to create REITs on healthcare and introduce a medical innovation fund enabling companies with capital to promote digital healthcare infrastructure. Setting up strong digital healthcare platforms will help rural India get better and quick assistance in their medical requirements. We also expect the government to announce reforms around incentivization of private investment in healthcare infrastructure, health insurance coverage, skilling the existing healthcare workforce, and rationalizing GST on healthcare offerings to further boost the growth of the sector. On the whole, it is high time that we should focus on bridging the rural-urban gap from the healthcare sector and ensure that high-end healthcare services are available and accessible for all.

Himesh Joshi, CEO & Co-Founder, Ayu Health Hospitals:

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.

Poornachandra Tejasvi, Senior Director, Emerging Markets India, Informa Pharma Intelligence:

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 shown 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. [Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call at a recent industry summit was: Ideate in India, innovate in India, make in India and make for the world] 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.

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Krishna Mali
Krishna Mali
Founder & Editor of TechGraph.

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