SC seeks Centre’s response on free Covid treatment in private hospitals
The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to identify private hospitals across the country for treating Covid-19 patients either for free or at a nominal cost.
The direction came from a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde while hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Sachin Jain on the aspect of private hospitals charging high rates from Covid-19 patients who had nowhere to go.
“When the nation is fighting a battle against the pandemic, all such private hospitals which are running on public land (allotted at concessional rates) or are running under the category of ‘charitable institutions’ should be called upon to provide the hospitalization and treatment to the Covid-19 patients pro bono publico (free of cost) or on no-profit basis,” Jain said in his petition.
He also informed the Court that majority citizens cannot afford the high cost of treatment at private hospitals and many are not covered under health insurance schemes.
He argued that given the resource crunch of government-owned hospitals, “It becomes apparent that the government/public health sector alone may not be able to manage the fallout, and hence, extensive participation of the private healthcare sector would be required.”
At present, private hospitals are free to charge any amount from the patients admitted for Covid-19 treatment. The petition said that the concession could be given with regard to hospital bed and basic treatment, while keeping out the surgical operations or procedures from the ambit of free or concessional treatment.
The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, found merit in this submission and asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take instructions from the Centre and respond within a week. The bench told Mehta, “These hospitals have been given land either free of cost or at concessional rates. They should treat patients also for free.”
Mehta informed the Court that a decision of this nature concerns a policy and must be left to the wisdom of the Government. However, he agreed to take instructions and respond to the concern expressed by the Court within a week.