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Health budget expected to be increased by 30-35%

India’s health sector may see a higher allocation, with expected increases in outlay for the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), vaccination, and disease control programmes in the upcoming Union Budget for 2024.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had seen a 13 per cent increase in the proposed outlay to Rs 87,657 crore for FY25 during the interim Budget in February. This followed a 10 per cent rise in outlay for the Ayushman Bharat scheme to Rs 7,500 crore, with the Finance Ministry proposing to bring Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi workers under its ambit.

A similar expansion of AB-PMJAY is expected after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s manifesto promised to increase the scheme’s coverage to include all senior citizens over 70 and the transgender community.

K Madan Gopal, advisor (public health administration), National Health Systems Resource Centre and former senior consultant, NITI Aayog, said the health budget is expected to increase by at least 30-35 per cent to around Rs 1.2 trillion.

“This could be on the back of an expected rise in allocation for PM-JAY to Rs 10,000 crore to cover more families and additional health conditions,” he said.

The scheme provides cashless and paperless benefit cover of Rs 5 lakh per annum per family on a floater basis in empanelled hospitals across India.

According to data available on the National Health Authority dashboard, the scheme has so far covered over 345 million citizens who received free health insurance of Rs 5 lakh for hospitalisation.

“The scheme, though, has seen a lack of participation and empanelled hospitals complain of delays in reimbursements,” an expert said.

To tackle this, the health ministry formed a 16-member committee in March to look into the implementation of the scheme and oversee progress in beneficiary identification, hospitalisation, and modes of implementation.

The government may put a concerted effort into adult vaccination after several health experts proposed the need to create awareness about vaccines for adults, such as the influenza vaccine or cervical cancer vaccine. They added that these should be available at subsidised rates.

“Many people may not know about the importance of influenza and cervical cancer vaccines. So, there is a need to create awareness and provide these vaccines either free of cost or at subsidised rates,” a health expert told Business Standard after meeting the finance minister.

Sources indicate the government may also increase allocation for the establishment and strengthening of regional centres of the National Centre for Disease Control.

“This will lead to increased inter-sectoral coordination for preparation and control of infectious zoonotic diseases like bird flu and surveillance of viral hepatitis and antimicrobial resistance,” an official said.

Similarly, experts indicate that control of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiac ailments, and cancer may see a concerted push from the government. The support for increasing funding comes at a time when non-communicable diseases account for more than 60 per cent of all deaths in India.

“Increased funding for screening and diagnostics to target non-communicable diseases is essential to provide quality care to citizens,” an expert said.

The other key areas of focus in the Budget could be programmes included in the ministry’s 100-day plan.

“These include deployment of Arogya Maitri Cubes in central government hospitals to meet health emergencies and providing financial support to Banaras Hindu University’s Institute of Medical Sciences on the lines of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Also, to make the National Medical Register, an e-register of all certified medical practitioners in India, operational,” an official said.

Gopal added that the drug regulatory framework is also expected to be strengthened, with a substantial allocation for the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and other regulatory bodies.

Queries sent to the health ministry remained unanswered till the time of going to press. Business Standard

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