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#UnionBudget2016: Jaitley brings achche din for the health sector

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:50 IST
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's Union Budget 2016-17 has brought good news for the social sector, with various schemes introduced to address the needs of the marginalised, the poor and the neglected. Some even claim the budget has given the biggest boost to the social sector in the post-liberalisation era.

For the health sector, there was some good news. From a new dialysis programme to an additional insurance cover, the government seems to have finally turned its attention towards its poll promises for the sector.

Here are some highlights from the budget:

National Dialysis Service Programme under PPP model
Studies show that there are about 20 million people in India suffering from different kinds of kidney diseases.

Additionally, around 2.2 lakh new patients suffering from renal diseases get added every year, who require dialysis services.

Presently there are around 4,950 dialysis centres in India, which exist mostly in the private sector. Most of them are expensive and do not even meet half the demand.

To address this situation, Jaitley has proposed to start a 'National Dialysis Services Programme'. He has also proposed to exempt certain parts of dialysis equipment from basic customs duty, excise/countervailing duty and special additional duty to further reduce the cost.

Jaitley said each session of dialysis costs approximately Rs.2,000 per patient, and nearly 3.4 lakh sessions are conducted every year in India.

The lack of dialysis facilities near the place of residence also affects mortality. Patients in stage III of chronic kidney disease need dialysis once or twice a week.

Health Protection Scheme
Back in 2008, the UPA government had introduced a Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, which provided cashless hospitalisation in both public and private hospitals.

It had a limited number of hospitals where the scheme could be availed. The fact that it was limited to hospitalisation made sure that the scheme did not meet up to the NDA's 'healthcare for all' poll promise.

Jaitley addressed this on Monday. He proposed a new Health Protection Scheme to give a health insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh per household, which would be in addition to the Rs 30,000 that families get for select diseases and treatments.

More generic drugs
The NDA government has put the focus back on generic medicines to a large extent. Jaitley announced opening of 3,000 stores that will provide generic medicines at low rates in financial year 2016-17, under the Jan Aushadhi Scheme.

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The Jan Aushadhi campaign was launched in April 2008 by the then-minister for chemicals and fertilisers, Ram Vilas Paswan.The scheme flopped badly, with many stores closing down way before the government was even close to its target.

"For the better availability of generic medicines in the country, especially in the rural areas, the government has decided to open 3,000 new generic medicine stores," said Jaitley.

Neglected areas
However, there are some neglected areas. The budget did not provide for investment in health research, something activists and researchers have been lobbying for.

Immunity programmes such as the AIDS and Tuberculosis Control programme have also been kneeling under a cash-crunch and Jaitley's budget did not provide much respite.

But overall, compared to the last few years, there has certainly been more of a focus on health, education and hygiene.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 1 March 2016, 5:01 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.