With the focus on digital health infrastructure, Budget 2022 increased the total allocation for health to ₹86,200.65 crore for FY23 from the Revised Estimate of ₹86,000.65 crore for 2021-22. The total amount of ₹86,200.65 crore allocated for the ministry includes ₹83,000 crore for the Department of Health and Family Welfare and ₹3200.65 crore for the Department of Health Research. 

With digital now set to be the backbone of healthcare, including unique IDs and so on, the Centre raised its allocation to ₹200 crore as compared with the revised budget of ₹75 crore for FY22 under its National Digital Health Mission. 

Various Central sector schemes including Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission and Family Welfare Schemes saw an increased allocation of ₹10,000 crore, ₹978.87 crore and ₹484.35 crore respectively. 

Muted Budget

Many health experts, however, expressed disappointment over the complete neglect of the healthcare sector by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech. The allocation for Covid-19 vaccines, too, was down to ₹5,000 crore, a health economist pointed out, at a time the programme was being expanded to adolescents and precautionary doses. Last year, ₹35,000 crore was allotted towards the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

“While it is good to see that the focus on Digitisation, Sustainability, Energy Conservation and Development of Infrastructure has taken a clear precedence in Union Budget 2022, the allocation towards healthcare is not to the level we anticipated. Coming out of the shadows of the pandemic, it is most important to allocate at least 3 per cent of the Budget to healthcare”, Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman and Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare, said. 

“The Budget is silent on the increase in public expenditure on healthcare and the path to 2.5 per cent of GDP spent on healthcare which is the much-needed reform path for this sector and enablement of healthcare access to India. However, the focus on digital healthcare with the National Digital Health Ecosystem is a welcome move. However, reform in paramedical education for faster enablement of clinical/paraclinical talent is still not addressed. While the FM-led Budget 21 made healthcare a central subject, Budget 22 does lack continuity of that vision,” Vishal Bali, Executive Chairman, Asia Healthcare Holdings, said. 

‘Not expenditure, but investment’

Meanwhile, noted Virologist T Jacob John said the spending on the health sector should not be considered as an expenditure but should be taken as an investment. “Budget on health is an investment which brings profits to the country indirectly by keeping people healthy thereby increasing their productivity,” he stated while further adding that the government should focus on prevention of diseases by allocating more funds in that direction.

Meanwhile, Dr Harsh Mahajan, President, Nathealth said there is also a need to create fiscal incentives for investments/public private partnership (PPP) in both hospital and out-of-hospital delivery models like telemedicine, home care, senior care and long-term care.

“We request the government to consider lowering cost of financing capital, free flow of credit into the sector especially for the build-up of new infra and capacity and continue investment in incentivising capacity build-up of supply side levers through PPP like medical education, diagnostic and device manufacturing,” Mahajan stated.