Reflections on Budget 2022 – Life Science and Healthcare

By Meghna Misra-Elder

Following Budget 2021, there were high expectations from the budget this year but it seems that not much attention has been given to the Healthcare sector overall.

Some experts see this Budget as a signal of a shift to a post-pandemic phase by the government. Although one has to applaud the Governments efforts to focus on mental health, which has for a very long time been neglected and is a step in the right direction; the rest of the Healthcare sector, it seems, feels a bit left out.

In the opening speech the FM highlighted the importance of strengthening the Healthcare sector, although the focus really has been on boosting the economic growth through investing in infrastructure. Overall, the healthcare sector has been allocated Rs 86,200 crore (GBP 8.5 billion) in the Union Budget, a hike of 16 percent over Rs 73,931 crore (GBP 7.3 billion) in 2021-22. Some industry players say this is marginal when compared to what is required though.

Experts around the world have been talking about the impact of the pandemic on mental health and asking Governments to do more in this area. The Indian FM also accentuated the mental health problems faced by people of all ages in India and announced the plan to set up a National Tele-Mental Health programme. The programme will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with NIMHANS being the nodal centre and the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technology support with the aim to provide better quality mental health counselling and care services to its citizens.

The other big announcement included setting up an open platform for the national health ecosystem, which will contain digital registries of health providers and facilities, unique health identities, consent framework and unique access to health facilities. This will surely help to further facilitate the ongoing digitalisation of the sector and give a much needed boost to the role of health-tech businesses.

The national digital health mission has also been allocated Rs 200 crore (GBP 20 million), compared to just Rs 30 crore (GBP 3 million) allocated in the previous Budget.

The Budget also identified ‘Genomics and Pharmaceuticals’ as potential opportunities eligible for supportive policies, light-touch regulations, facilitative actions to build domestic capacities and promotion of R&D. The government, in these areas, will promote thematic funds for blended finance with the government share being limited to 20% and the funds being managed by private fund managers.

This year’s Budget will, of course, take forward the announcements made last year which includes the launch of Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana scheme, now renamed Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (PMABHIM), with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore (approx. GBP 6.4 billion) over six years. In continuation to that this year, the government will transfer Rs 4,176 crore (GBP 411 million) to the states — to be utilised to support wellness centres, setting up of integrated public health labs, and critical care hospital blocks in districts with a population of more than 5 lakh (500,000).

The budget has, once again, emphasised the importance of digitising the healthcare sector and creating a better digital health ecosystem and we hope this is reflected and incorporated in the upcoming Data Protection Bill by encouraging innovation while protecting privacy.

Overall, the industry feels that following the second wave last year they expected the Government to do more to further improve the state of the healthcare sector in the country and continue the momentum from last year but this budget seems to have fallen short of that.

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