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Healthcare sector hails interim budget, calls for GST rationalization & increased investments

The healthcare industry has welcomed the interim budget presented by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while adding that the government needs to prioritise spending towards healthcare sector and long standing demands like rationalisation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and increased investments in the healthcare sector are yet to be addressed.

Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, MD and CEO, Fortis Healthcare and President, NATHEALTH, said that the 2024 budget takes a forward-looking approach to healthcare. Establishing a committee to expand medical colleges within existing hospital infrastructure addresses the shortage of healthcare professionals and strengthens medical education. Additionally, the initiative to combat cervical cancer through HPV vaccination for girls aged 9-14 in six states is proactive in disease prevention.

Extending Ayushman Bharat coverage to Anganwadi and Asha workers recognises their vital role in community health, and consolidating maternal and child healthcare schemes emphasises holistic well-being. Furthermore, the introduction of the U-Win platform for immunisation management, combined with intensified efforts like Mission Indradhanush, demonstrates a technology-driven approach to vaccination.

“However, it’s worth mentioning that some long-standing demands, like GST rationalisation and increased investments in the healthcare sector, need to be addressed. We anticipate their consideration in the upcoming comprehensive budget,” he added.

Ameera Shah, Promoter and Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare said that the Interim budget takes commendable steps in healthcare, and the Rs 1-lakh crore allocation for private sector R&D with 50-year interest-free financing is positive for innovation. Strengthening healthcare infrastructure by establishing additional medical colleges effectively addresses the critical shortage of healthcare professionals.

While acknowledging the initiatives to launch a cervical cancer vaccination drive for girls aged 9-14 and consolidate maternal and child healthcare schemes under one program, demonstrating a proactive approach to preventive healthcare the industry had hoped for deeper investment and resource allocation in the healthcare sector, she said.

“India should prioritize and invest more in healthcare, exploring Public-Private Partnerships to enhance services without significantly increasing budgets. There is a need for regular and inclusive screening, along with more skilling courses for healthcare professionals to attract and upskill talent in the healthcare space. Additionally, the diagnostic sector requires a 0% GST on services and refunds for GST paid on inputs,” she added.

D. S. Negi, CEO, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC) welcomed the interim budget announcement pertaining to the health sector. The measures will certainly help address key issues of shortage of health workers, increase access to quality healthcare, and prevention of life-threatening diseases. However, we hope the government will prioritize other pressing issues in the healthcare sector and provide budgetary incentives in the upcoming full budget.

Dr. Aashish Chaudhry, Managing Director, Aakash Healthcare while applauding the initiatives, added that the budgetary announcement has its list of misses with respect to the expectations of the sector. The budgetary announcements might have benefited from a more comprehensive strategy to address the broader challenges and opportunities within the healthcare sector, ensuring a holistic and impactful approach to public health in the country.

Dr. N K Pandey, Chairman & Managing Director- Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad, welcomed the Union Budget 2024, adding that while overall the budget seems to be balanced, but the sector could have been given more focus.  A 10-12 % rise in healthcare expenditure was expected in the budget which will enable the much-needed attention that healthcare requires now.  The budget is generally seen as positive for addressing key issues, however, the call for a more substantial allocation to healthcare is a notable point for future considerations.