By News Desk

Published on 1, February, 2018

The government has announced an ambitious health insurance scheme, which is designed to be a safety net for millions of poor people. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the parliament today that as part of Budget 2018, the new national health protection scheme will cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, Mr Jaitley said, adding that each family would be entitled to up to Rs. 5 lakh every year.

"This will be the world's largest government-funded healthcare programme," Mr Jaitley told parliament in his budget speech. "The government is steadily but surely progressing towards a goal of universal health coverage."

However, the budget notes on the contrary suggest that the previous health insurance scheme is yet to be implemented and still awaits cabinet approval.

The overall health budget has increased from INR 39,879 crore (1.97% of total Union Budget) to INR 48,878 crore (2.27% of total Union Budget). Most of the increase is devoted towards human resources and medical education.

India currently spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public healthcare, one of the lowest in the world.

A major step to tackle the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases is the establishment of five lakh health centres to be created to bring healthcare to people’s homes for non-communicable disease and women and child health.

In a bid to strengthen infrastructure, construction of 24 new government medical colleges and to upgrade existing District Hospitals was announced. It has said that one government medical college will be ensured for every three parliamentary constituencies. Additional 5000 post graduate seats for specialist courses were also announced in the budget.

Government has decided to start DNB (Diplomate National Board) courses in district hospitals and municipality hospitals across the country. However it remains to be seen how many district hospitals in the country are capable to provide facilities for such courses.

In addition, government has announced that it will be modifying the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to promote generics and reduce the cost of medicines. However, there was not enough attention towards digital healthcare in the budget.

While the government has set targets for key health indicators such as bringing down the MMR and IMR, however its target to eliminate diseases such as tuberculosis by 2025 seems too ambitious. India accounts for about a quarter of the global TB burden. In 2016 alone, an estimated 28 lakh cases occurred and 4.5 lakh people died due to TB.  The government has allocated Rs. 600 crores for nutritional support to Tuberculosis patients.

This is the last budget of Prime Minister Modi's government, which will seek a second tenure in parliamentary polls, tentatively scheduled for May 2019. The new government will determine the full-year budget for 2019-20.