Budget 2018: Healthcare sector divided over Ayushman Bharat Programme

Even though the medical fraternity has appreciated the steps addressing healthcare issues in the budget, doctors still remain cautious over its execution in the long run

Budget 2018: Healthcare sector divided over Ayushman Bharat Programme

  • In the Union Budget for 2018, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced two new initiatives under the Ayushman Bharat Program.
  • This move is expected to benefit 10 crore poor and vulnerable families. It will be the world’s biggest government funded healthcare programme.
  • The government will provide up to Rs. 5 lakh per year per family for medical care in secondary and tertiary healthcare institutions.

“We are slowly progressing towards universal health coverage,” Jaitley said in his speech, adding that the scheme will be the “world’s largest healthcare programme”.

Jaitley also announced the creation of health and wellness centres, which will “bring healthcare closer to home”. These centres, 1.5 lakh in number, will provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services.

The medical fraternity has so far given mixed reactions to this step taken by the central government.

Dr Prathap Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals, “My heartiest congratulations to this government for investing in creating a swasth bharat by launching the Ayushman Bharat programme. Such ambitious out of the box thinking was a burning need of the hour and the government has not disappointed. The initiative to cover 10 crore families with 5 lakh per family/per year with insurance cover for secondary and tertiary healthcare will be a game changer.”

Dr Ravi Wankhedkar, President, Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “Even though the move to open 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres is a good move, the meagre allocation of 1,200 crores translates to only Rs 80,000 per centre, still the IMA promises to support this move in a PPP model.”

He added, “The national health protection scheme will cover up to 5 lakh per annum per family for secondary and tertiary hospitalization for 10 crore families. But fund allocation for the cause not mentioned.”

Dr Wankhedkar further said, “Taking base of Maharashtra government similar scheme, the Government of India will need more than Rs 10,000 crores will be needed for payment of premium to provide insurance cover. More ever this scheme should include all small and medium hospitals so that all beneficiaries are really benefited. The past experience is that such schemes only benefit private insurance companies. Patient should have the choice of selecting the doctor and hospital for his treatment. The tax relief on premiums of health insurance is a welcome move.”

Abhijeet More, conveyor of Jan Aarogya Abhiyan, an NGO which works in the health sector, said, “The budget allocation for the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ scheme is just Rs 1,200 crore. If we assume per family five people then the scheme gives Rs 40 per person per year. This amount can barely take care of our health care expenses. Also the total budget allocation has seen an increase of just 2.5%, whereas the inflation has increased more than the budgetary increase for health care sector. The budget allocation for health is disappointing.”

Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “This budget is directed more towards the poorer sections of the society. It remains to be seen what benefit the Aam Janata will accrue. The Flagship ‘National health protection scheme’ launched to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (meaning 50 crore beneficiaries) by providing Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation is a good move.”

He added, “The fact that comprehensive health care including NCDs and maternal and health services fall under this gambit is encouraging. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic tests, a need of the hour.”

Dr Prakash Marathe, President Pune IMA, said, “Starting new medical colleges is a welcome initiative. We need more and more public sector hospitals and that can be achieved only when government invests more money in new colleges. Another good initiative is on making health insurance available to more people, with this manner we can achieve goal of health insurance for all in the country soon. Also, the government has recognised the need to control air pollution in northern states and has decided to start a special scheme on that. The Aayushman Bharat scheme will help in consolidating many healthcare related schemes.”

Ameera Shah, Promoter and Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare Limited, stated, “Overall, this has been a pro-people and a pro-poor budget. For the first time, universal health care has got the impetus it needs. I am pleased with the government’s plan to introduce 24 new medical colleges. It is the only way to address the glaring lack of talent in the industry. The 1.5 lakh centres which will provide free essential drugs and diagnosis is a welcome move and a step towards boosting the Government’s National Health Policy.  The government has definitely shown its interest in making healthcare more accessible and affordable through the Ayushman Bharat programme.”

She further added, “Another highlight of the budget has been the focus on fighting the ever-growing hazards of pollution from crop burning, promotion of gas connection in houses using wood fire for cooking, among others. By not just talking about healthcare, but its indicators as well, the government is definitely on the right track towards improving the sector across the country.”

Dr Tarang Gianchandani, CEO, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre said, “It’s a welcome budget for healthcare.  The government has taken a step forward towards setting up 24 new government  medical colleges-hospitals which again is a positive step provided we are able to retain these doctors for our country’ s health care needs.  The long term approach should also focus on reducing the cost of healthcare by appropriate tax reduction for medical equipment and consumable companies ,more focus  on the spending’s done in public hospital to upgrade their infrastructure.”

Dr Kaushik Murali, Paediatric Ophthalmologist and  President, Sankara Eye Hospital said,The Ayushman Bharath the scheme to provide health cover to 50 crore Indians of Rs 5 lakhs are simply audacious in scale and reach and could be a game changer. Healthcare needs to be universally accessible and also start from preventive care. This should be taken care of with the proposed 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres.The idea to increase the number of doctors is good with the 24 district hospitals being upgraded , however strengthening of the other post graduate programmes like the DNB course would also need to be done simultaneously.”

Dr Sujit Chatterjee, CEO, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Powai said, “It is a very welcome step by the government of India to provide subsidized healthcare for the poor. It is a splendid step towards building a new India. The only challenge here from an infrastructure perspective is to build the essential point of care network to deliver these benefits to the patients. It is a grand move by the government towards strengthening Aarogya Bharat.”

Dr Ramen Goel, Senior Bariatric and Metabolic Surgeon & Director, Center of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery, Wockhardt Hospitals said, “I am glad that the healthcare sector today took the centre stage of the budget with the finance minister announcing the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme. In addition to that, 24 new government medical colleges will be opened ensuring that every three Lok Sabha constituencies will have at least one medical college. This is a strong movement towards being a developed nation.”

Gautam Khanna, CEO at PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre, said, “It is vital that the schemes mentioned in the budget are implemented and monitored effectively and efficiently so that they enable high quality patient care and truly benefit the citizens.”

 Dr Ramakanta Panda, Worlds leading Cardio-Vascular-Thoracic Surgeon and Vice Chairman, Asian Heart Institute said, ““Budget 2018 has laid much-needed emphasis to the healthcare sector with emphasis on the elderly and underprivileged. It is encouraging to note that the government has allowed Senior Citizens to claims benefits of Rs 50,000 as part of medical insurance – earlier this was Rs 30,000. The allocation of Rs. 1200 Cr towards health and wellness centres and Rs 600 Cr towards nutrition for patients suffering from Tuberculosis are positive steps.”