Healthcare security is critical for a country like ours to ensure that we actually reap our much-touted demographic dividend. Thus, it is heartening to note that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has shown considerable commitment to the healthcare sector this budget. To begin with, the total budgetary allocation for the sector been raised by a significant 28% over the previous fiscal—from ₹38,343.33 crore in 2016-17 to ₹47,352.51 crore now.
This is complemented by a slew of noteworthy measures, such as time-bound goals to eliminate diseases (such as kala-azar, filariasis, leprosy, measles and tuberculosis), setting up of two more AIIMS, ensuring availability of specialist doctors at the secondary and tertiary levels, and the creation of an additional 5000 post-graduate (PG) seats every year. The decision to transform 1.5 lakh health sub-centres into health and wellness centres across the country will ensure quality healthcare services are accessible to the masses.
The push for digitisation will be an added boost for seamless healthcare delivery and insurance seeding.
Similarly, the decision to introduce necessary changes in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 and new guidelines for the medical device industry with the objective to bring down overall healthcare costs and to ensure better regulatory responses was much needed.
Insurance being integral to healthcare security, the push for digitisation will be an added boost for seamless healthcare delivery and insurance seeding. Aadhaar-enabled payment systems, more swipe machines, and the encouragement of digital transactions through platforms like UPI will provide an impetus to health insurance as digital payment gateways will make it more convenient, faster and transparent. Aadhaar cards with the health status of senior citizens will further help insurance companies to design products suitable to their needs and resolve issues that insurers face in recording the health profile of customers at the point of enrolment itself.
The decision to do away with 5% of TDS from commission of insurance agents is a timely stimulus. It will increase payout to agents and boost agent retention, which has been a big challenge for the sector as agents don't find the insurance business lucrative. Given the fact that 70% insurance sales are through agents, this is a welcome move.
Relaxation in the FDI regime with the phasing out of the foreign investment promotion board (FIPB) is going to ease and speed up foreign investment in the country. This is good news for the insurance sector, which will gain from the inflow of FDI.
Last but not the least, tax relief for those in the lower income groups and SMEs will increase the disposable income of the middle class, which should propel them to invest in their health via personal health insurance schemes.
A stratified approach to integrate healthcare instruments with other measures is definitely the way to go.
These are great boosters but given our massive healthcare challenges, further measures need to bolster these efforts to build a really robust healthcare security architecture. A stratified approach to integrate healthcare instruments with other measures is definitely the way to go. For example, households without an earning member or those with annual income of ₹5 lakh should be provided comprehensive health insurance coverage with the total premium shared between the Centre and state/UT governments on a 25:75 basis. Likewise, those with annual income between ₹5-10 lakhs should bear 25% of the premium on their own, with the remaining shared between Centre and states as per the same ratio. Similarly, the co-payment of premium can keep increasing according to defined income brackets, with households having an annual income of ₹30 lakhs and above paying the entire premium themselves. Such measures will go a long way in ensuring healthcare security for an individual and the nation.