Covid disaster might drive extra funds to prop well being sector

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 31

After Covid-19 showed how a public health crisis can lead to an economic and social crisis, the Union Budget is likely to reflect a shift in the government policy towards higher allocations to the sector where public spending hovers at a meagre 1 per cent of the GDP.

Focus is expected on boosting primary health infrastructure, disease surveillance mechanisms and cutting out-of-pocket expenditures on health by strengthening the flagship Ayushman Bharat project which has two pillars – health and wellness centres at the primary level and cashless hospitalisation for 10 crore poor families with a financial cover of Rs 5 lakh a year.

Government sources indicate that the Budget could focus on reducing India’s out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE), one of the highest in the world. High OOPE contributes directly to a high incidence of catastrophic expenditures and poverty.

Official projections say an increase in public spending from 1 per cent to 2.5-3 per cent of the GDP – envisaged in the National Health Policy, 2017 – can decrease the OOPE from 65 per cent to 30 per cent of the overall healthcare spending.

So a further boost to the PM Jan Aarogya Yojna under Ayushman Bharat could help achieve the goal of improved access to equitable, affordable and accountable healthcare system.

The World Health Organisation has also stressed the merits of investment in health by showing that health affects domestic economic growth directly through labour productivity and increasing life expectancy from 50 to 70 years (a 40 per cent increase) could raise the economic growth rate by 1.4 percentage points per year.

Health Ministry sources say a major learning from the pandemic has been that even the infrastructure created by greater healthcare spending in the advanced economies could not deal with the disease burden created by the pandemic.

“Better health infrastructure is no guarantee that a country would be able to deal better with devastating pandemics like Covid-19. As the next health crisis could possibly be drastically different from Covid, the focus must be on building the healthcare system for long-term goals generally rather than have a specific focus on communicable diseases,” the Economic Survey 2020-2021 has said, advising the government to create at least one ward in each hospital that can be converted quickly for emergency use.

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