GUWAHATI, April 5 - While highly appreciating the Centre�s efforts to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, healthcare industry leaders cutting across the entire industry spectrum, have urged the government to come forward with fiscal intervention to arrest the adverse impact on the economy and thereby on human lives.
The industry leaders recommended both fiscal and non-fiscal interventions for several sectors which focus on the service sector, especially hospitals, diagnostics, pathology labs, med tech, insurance, home care and other healthcare service providers.
�The services sector, which accounts for about 55 per cent of India�s gross domestic product, is poised to be the worst hit due to actions such as mandatory and self-imposed curfew. The social distancing measures would lead to lower footfalls in the healthcare sector, decline in elective procedure volume and sub-optimal operating efficiencies that will have a severe impact on the cash flows of companies in the capital intensive sector. The industry is also suffering from reduced availability and elevated pricing observed for certain essential consumable items,� the representation to the government pointed out.
�Also, the global supply chains are in turmoil, driving up shortages causing significant hike in the input costs which cannot be passed on to consumers as healthcare services are exempt from GST and many of the critical items are capped in prices. Apart from the healthcare facilities, medical devices, diagnostics and health insurance too have been affected due to the supply chain and demand disruptions,� it said.
Covid-19 needs all health workers to be motivated and secured as a united front. Health services including hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic labs and homecare, need immediate fiscal intervention. Industry leaders strongly recommended to the government to ensure working capital that would help the hospitals continue to operate at near-normal levels and both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients can avail the services. The industry called for six to nine months� moratorium on all working capital, principal, interest payments on loans and overdrafts, bringing in liquidity and allowing for business continuity.
Dubbing it a critical fiscal intervention, the healthcare industry sought short-term interest-free loans for augmenting capacity, and to ensure smooth hospital operations without supply chain disruptions. The government also was requested to examine grant or subsidy as an interim market support mechanism.
To maintain operational expenditure including payment of salaries to health professionals on time, the industry suggested to the government to immediately release 100 per cent Central and State government dues to the sector under various schemes such as CGHC, ECHS, State Schemes, GIPSA among others.
The representation also sought urgent release of income tax refunds and allowing a quarter�s postponement on compliances, and payment of insurance without the policies getting lapsed.
The healthcare leaders said that a waiver of GST on input costs and services for two quarters would help enormously. �This would also ensure that hospitals are not forced to curtail the outsource services like housekeeping, security and F&B (all of which have significant GST levies), in turn causing loss of jobs people employed in those sectors. Deferment of pre-payment of loan for 12 months should be allowed. Deferment of advance tax payments at the Central government level would also be a significant fiscal intervention,� they said in the unified representation.
For the medical devices industry, the representation called for cut-down on custom duty across the board for life-saving medical equipment and setting up of a credit window facility that can help augment infrastructure during the period of great turmoil. It also suggested withdrawal of health cess ad valorem from medical devices so that the health cess will apply only to basic customs duty. For the medical device industry also it emphasised that the government clear all outstanding dues and make timely payment for upcoming procurements from government institutions in the current crisis, which will go a long way in supporting med-tech companies.
The industry leaders were of the view that along with fiscal incentives and support, non-fiscal interventions would be equally critical.
�Further to the Ministry of Health guidelines on home quarantine and telemedicine, the government should also issue standard guidelines for home healthcare providers notifying them under ambit of Clinical Establishment Act, as they can contribute by remote monitoring of cases by monitoring patients for symptoms in home quarantine, patients in E-ICU beyond metros, cases recovering from COVID-19 and preventing or managing relapse,� the representation said.