Bengaluru volunteers battle overcharging in hospital amid pandemic
On May 18, Nanda Girish, a 31-year-old businessman turned Covid-19 volunteer, received a distress call. Unlike the usual calls for supplies or cremation services, this call was regarding a hospital not releasing the body of a Covid-19 victim. The hospital had asked the patient’s family to pay ₹12.5 lakh for treatment, only after which the body will be handed over to the relatives.
“When they told us about this exorbitant bill, we decided to take a look at it and found that bill was beyond the government prescribed rates for beds. So, we drafted a letter citing these problems and also contacted the concerned joint commissioner. Once we escalated the matter, the hospital released the body and didn’t even insist on the full payment of the bills,” said Girish, who is part of Saahasi, a group of volunteers helping people with hospital bills.
In the next 20 days, Girish, his friend Raghuram and close to 30 other volunteers from Saahasi have taken more than 30 cases where hospitals have charged beyond government regulation. So far in five of these cases, they have been able to get refunds of ₹22 lakh to the families of those affected by the malpractice.
Talking to HT, Girish didn’t want to name the hospital since they were preparing a document that will be submitted to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), for further action.
The volunteer group has now recruited some doctors as well to join hands with them for a thorough scrutiny of the bills and they have also approached the BBMP with a proposal to allow them nodal officers whom they can assist in taking action against hospitals. “The doctors and nodal officers will be helpful to find if the patients have been charged for unnecessary medication etc,” Girish said.
“Since we have started helping with hospital bills, we have been getting several calls. In one case, the family was threatened by the hospital saying they would remove the patient from the ventilator if the full payment was not done. This is despite the patient’s wife making an advance payment of ₹5 lakh. After we intervened the hospital didn’t insist her to pay the full amount. This shows some amount of foul play from the hospital’s side,” he said.
The work they do is not easy. Each bill runs up to 15 pages and it takes time to understand where the hospitals have overcharged. “In some cases, they charge for 5 PPE kits per day per patient, which when researched was found was not right. There were several other charges which were beyond government regulations,” Girish added.
Talking about his group’s work, he said that their aim was to assist the government authorities. “When we came across these cases, we realized the government will not be able to go through each bill. But if we are able to do the backend work and inform the respective officials, they will be able to help the families. So far, the numbers are low since we have not put out a helpline number, but we will do it soon. In such a case, we have to create a zone-wise data that we can handover to officials and get notices issued to hospitals,” he said.
Volunteers are closely working with BBMP commissioner, Bengaluru district commissioner and senior police officers who have been appointed as hospital nodal officers. One of these officers was additional director general of police Alok Kumar, who on June 2, had raided a hospital in Bengaluru east, which had several complaints of overcharging against it.
The officer said that during the raid they found that the hospital was charging ₹1,000 for every hour of oxygen supplied to the patients. A copy of a bill showed that the hospital charged patients ₹30,000 a day in a Covid isolation ICU ward, while the state government has capped the charges at ₹15,000.
“We have initiated legal action against the hospital in CV Raman Nagar limits for overcharging patients for ICU beds and oxygen. We have directed the hospital management to refund the money. Further action will be taken if they fail to comply with our directions,” Kumar said.
Meanwhile, volunteers like Girish continue to go through hospital bills every day to do their part during the pandemic. “If we are able to get refunds up to ₹22 lakh from just 5 cases, we believe once we have gone through all complaint we have got, the sum will be much larger. We are also hoping that more people will come out, so we can make a case against hospitals where such practices are rampant. The most important thing for us is to continue to get support from authorities, so quick action can be taken as the number of complaints increase,” he said.