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Health Budget..A numbers game

Rema Nagarajan,
04 Mar 2013

Health budget: Juggling numbers to mislead the public

After wringing its hands over how rising healthcare costs was pushing 39 million into poverty and promising to stop this from happening, the government has increased allocation this year by just Rs 2,840 crore which is less than the amount that was not released last year out of the total allocated amount.

Last year, i.e. in the 2012-13 budget, the amount budgeted for health was Rs 34,500 crore. Out of this, finally, only about Rs 29,300 crore was allocated according to the revised budget estimate, i.e. about Rs 5,200 less than what was supposed to be allocated for public health. In light of this failure to allocate, the increase of just Rs 2,840 crore does not even make up for what the government failed to allocate last year.

Moreover, as a percentage of the entire government expenditure, health allocation remained 2%, same as last year.  Even the flagship scheme of the government the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has seen only a marginal increase. Last year Rs 18,515 crore was allocated. In this budget Rs 18,880 crore has been allocated-- an increase of just Rs 365 crore which works out to be a measly 2% increase. That does not look impressive. So what does the government do?

As usual, the government juggles figures to claim 23% increase in allotment to NRHM, now called National Health Mission (NHM), which includes NRHM and the National Urban Health Mission (NUHM). Instead of comparing with the previous year’s budget allocation, the ministry compares this year’s allocation with the revised estimate which is always less than the amount that is budgeted. Thus the ministry has compared this year’s Rs 18,880 crore with the revised estimate of Rs 15,400 crore. And then the allocation for NHM seems to have gone up by an impressive 23%.

Dr T Sundararaman, executive director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre calls the health budget a “farce” and says it is only meant to strangulate the public health system which was gaining in strength with increased NRHM allocation in previous budgets. It is an effort to push the healthcare in the country into further privatization, he adds.

In short, it is a miserable budget for public health which is carefully hidden from public view by talking of absolute numbers where percentage increase seems too small or by talking of percentages where absolute amounts are too small or by comparing budget estimate with the previous year’s revised estimate to make the allocation seem good.