Budget 2014: Mixed bag for health sector

Updated: Jul 10, 2014, 20:14 PM IST

Krishna Uppuluri/ Zee Research Group/ Delhi
br>With an aim to ensure “health for all,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday promised to take up on priority key health initiatives of providing free drugs and free diagnostic services, besides earmarking Rs 500 crore to set up four more AIIMS-like institutes in the country.

In his maiden budget speech, Jaitley said the government has also decided to set up 15 model rural health research centres in states for better health care facilities in rural India. The minister also proposed to add 12 government medical colleges, where dental facilities would also be provided. At present, 58 government medical colleges have been approved.

“In order to achieve universal access to early quality diagnosis and treatment to TB patients, two National Institutes of Ageing will be set up at AIIMS, New Delhi and Madras Medical College, Chennai. A national level research and referral Institute for higher dental studies would be set up in one of the existing dental institutions,” Jaitley said.

In a bid to discourage tobacco use, excise duty has been hiked on cigarettes, tobacco products like gutkha and even sugary aerated drinks. Jaitley increased excise duty on cigarettes in the range of 11 per cent to 72 per cent and said similar hikes would be proposed on cigars, cheroots and cigarillos.

Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had been pushing for higher taxes on tobacco products since when he took over the ministry as tobacco use imposes huge health costs on the country.

However, in the entire 2 hour-long budget speech, Jaitley did not mention anything about National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), which is a project started in 2005 by the UPA-1 government.

Jaitely also did not mention anything about ‘National Health Assurance Mission’, BJP’s flagship healthcare scheme. President Pranab Mukherjee had mentioned this scheme during his Parliamentary address last month and referred to it as “accessible, affordable, and effective”.

The FM failed to increase GDP allocation on healthcare, which a lot of experts were demanding before the budget session. This year the budget allocation to the health and family welfare sector is Rs 224.12 billion which is less than what the UPA government had allocated (Rs 373 billion) in 2013-14.

Drug testing in India will become expensive with service tax levy. This is going to be negative for the pharma sector.

Jaitley also failed to mention anything about health insurance in particular as well as medical tourism which brings in a lot of foreign exchange to the country. Raising FDI in insurance might spur insurance companies to better woo consumers in India.

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