With Union Budget to be tabled 5 July, health experts voice concerns

Chennai: While the Union Budget will be presented tomorrow, experts in the State voice their concern for increase in healthcare spend.

In the interim budget presented early this year, Rs 61,398 crore was allocated for the health sector, which was 19 per cent more than the 2018-19 allocation.

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Explaining the need for higher outlay, Institute of Child Health and Hospital for Children (ICH & HC) former director, Dr A T Arasar Seeralar, said, “The proportion of Indian health budget is not as high as in the case of western countries. Every illness should be brought under the coverage.”

Regarding the insurance scheme implemented in Tamilnadu, doctors state that it does not provide comprehensive coverage. Another doctor stated that insurance coverage for dengue is given when severe complications like haemorrhage arises. “In such cases, the patient experiences financial loss if s/he is a working person, even in a government set-up. It calls for treatment and monetary support right from the first stage to ensure that the epidemic is controlled,” he said.

Echoing similar thoughts, Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu (Transtan) former member-secretary, Dr J Amalorpavanathan, said, “The allocation of funds should go up at least by 4 per cent. All the primary health centres (PHCs) in all the States, especially in the ones where children die year after year due to the non-functional facility, should be adequately staffed in one year’s time.”

He added that the taluk and district hospitals should be strengthened to avoid patients travelling to metro cities to take curative medicine, and screen for illnesses at the local level. He pointed out that the government should focus on neonatal, paediatric, preventive care and non-communicable diseases.

File photo of Arasar Seeralar

UNIFORM DRUG PRICING

On controlling the price of medicines, Arasar Seeralar stated that the cost of drugs should be streamlined, enforcing uniform pricing even if it is branded.

“Whenever the government brings certain drugs under pricing control, the pharma companies stop the production of the medicine immediately or add a new compound to exclude it from the list. Policy-level intervention is needed to fix the problem,” he said.

Another doctor pointed out that generic medicines should be made available free of cost across the country and vaccines used in our country should be relevant to the region and not be influenced by other countries.

TAX CONTROL

In the recent past, disease-causing products are sold with less tax, especially tobacco items. NGO Consumer VOICE chief operating officer, Ashim Sanyal, said, “Contrary to claims made by the tobacco industry, the overall tax rate on all tobacco products in India is still low. By categorising cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as demerit goods under GST and levying the highest GST rate of 28 per cent plus cess on these, the government has prevented millions of youth from tobacco initiation and lifelong addiction. GST Council must also impose a compensation cess on bidis as this is widely consumed by weaker sections of society.”

Bhavani Prabhakar