As coronavirus gnawed its way through India, there was a multi-sectoral downward impact across industries. The impact is largely seen in the aviation, hospitality, retail and allied businesses and will continue to show prolonged effects according to ratings agency ICRA. The automotive industry suffered Rs 2,300 loss crore per day and an estimated job loss in the sector was about 3.45 lakh, according to a parliamentary panel report submitted to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. Another industry that has faced the brunt of the pandemic is the labour-intensive tourism industry, where in over 100 million jobs are at risk.
The scene was no different for the healthcare sector. The intense pressure on the industry to deliver, despite various challenges, has been immense. While initially the sector was reeling under pressure, it was fast to recover and deliver efficiently to the nations rising need of care as the cases steadfastly increased. However, there is an immediate need for increased number of ICUs, ventilators and medical equipment to be prepared for and respond to emergency health threats and disease outbreak. It is imperative to make healthcare accessible, affordable and of high standards to meet the rising need in the country. Investment in healthcare infrastructure is needed in metropolitan India but more so in Tier 2 and 3 cities to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable to all. Thus, the current budget must address the need for higher allocations and funding in the sector.
We are hoping for Input tax to be reduced so that cost pass through and labs can offer affordable testing costs to the middle and lower-class sections of the society. This would be a drastic but welcoming change to our industry, especially in the lab industry where imports are high, thus abolition of the import duty and reduction in GST for locally sourced supplies, kits or equipment, can further aid reduction of final customer rate being charged.
Public Private Partnerships in diagnostics will be a game-changer for India’s Healthcare development. Schemes like Ayushman Bharat and projects that are being initiated under the National Digital Health Mission are painting a promising picture for the sector especially with the Government evaluating models for partnering with private healthcare companies to provide services. We are looking forward to positive steps in this direction and would request that scope is expanded to include pathology and diagnostic testing services too. In accordance with our honourable prime minister’s vision of focusing on wellness, I would like to reiterate that higher public spends in preventive check-ups and primary care will ultimately bring down overall healthcare expenses for our country. GST In India, unlike mandatory insurance for our vehicles, health insurance for ourselves is not mandatory like other countries. It’s critical to evaluate this, and also ensure sufficient and easily available insurance cover for OPD, clinic consultations, diagnostic services and other pre-hospitalization expenses. This will encourage preventive healthcare among citizens, who will come forward for preventive health check-ups that can reduce disease management burden on the country.
Government needs to invest in set-ups where frequent check-ups can happen on regular basis which can avoid bigger health concerns in future. Diagnostic centres especially in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are few and far between, investments in the sector is crucial to increase access to labs and testing facilities with quick report generation so that treatment delays can be avoided.
India needs to produce our own technology especially IVD machine manufacturing should be encouraged. For example, Siemens provides medical equipment internationally and other countries get quality products so reducing taxes here in India and passing the provision of less taxes to these manufacturers will equip India with the best products and services.
The Government of India’s strategy to combat the virus and ensure supply chain continuity, manufacturing, and access to healthcare services has been commendable. Also, as the country prepares for a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine roll out, a considerable increase in the healthcare expenditure would be of paramount importance. We are awaiting a budget that will boost our economy and beneficial for both the industry as well as the citizens of India.
The author is the CEO, Thyrocare Technologies.