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Hospitals must make public charges

delhi Updated: Jan 30, 2010 23:35 IST
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In Singapore, the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Regulations mandate that all private hospitals provide to their patients, on or before admission, full information on the estimated charges likely to be incurred in respect of hospitalisation and treatment.

In order to ensure transparency in pricing, the ministry of health publishes healthcare charges in various hospitals in the public and the private sector.

If there is misleading or deceptive practice with regard to pricing, consumers have redress under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. If there is gross overcharging amounting to unethical and unprofessional practice, consumers can also complain to the Singapore Medical council. In the US, after the Bush administration’s initiative in 2006 to usher in transparency in health care, 30 states mandated that hospitals provide pricing information to the public.

I mention these two examples to highlight the need for similar initiatives in India, particularly in view of the number of hospitals that are coming up in the private sector and complaints about lack of transparency in their billing.

It should be mandatory for every hospital to make public their charges for various services provided by them.

The National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH) should consider incorporating this requirement as part of its accreditation programme for health care organisations.

Question by Arun Ratna: When I got admitted into a private hospital for an endoscopy and colonoscopy, I was given an estimate of Rs 39,000 for the stay and investigations. However, on my release, I was presented with a bill of Rs 71,110 and the hospital could not give any rational replies to my queries about the contents of the bill. For example, the doctors’ consultation charges are Rs 500, but eight doctors’ visits were billed at Rs 1,200 each. Two units of blood were charged at Rs 5,000 each, even though my children gave blood to the blood bank.

My initial enquiry while waiting for the procedure indicated that normal charges for an endoscopy were around Rs 3,500 and around Rs 4,000 for a colonoscopy. I have been billed for a total of over Rs 22,000. I would like to know the redress available to me.

Answer: I am not aware of any specific law or regulation in the health sector that protects consumers from this kind of unethical practice.

However, under the Consumer Protection Act, you can file a complaint of unfair trade practice and overcharging against the hospital.

In the case of The Commissioner, Assam State Housing Board Vs Manoj Kumar Adhikary, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission clarified that “matters relating to pricing may be adjudicated by the consumer fora in cases where price is fixed by law or there is a deliberate or intentional act on the part of the seller of goods (and provider of services) to take advantage of a higher price of the goods or there is a price dispute due to unfair trade practice…”