Regulate Covid treatment costs at private hospitals, orders Supreme Court
Concerned at high costs of treatment deterring Covid-19 patients from getting admitted at private hospitals across the country, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to use its vast powers under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) to direct States to regulate this cost.
The court’s direction cane while hearing a PIL filed by a lawyer Sachin Jain who flagged the exorbitant costs charged for treatment of Covid-19 at private hospitals.
He stated that in such a situation where the country was battling a pandemic, even the private hospitals are duty-bound to provide treatment at subsidized rates.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde which heard the PIL said, “These are matters having far-reaching implications. To what extent cost becomes a prohibiting factor for access to medical care is an issue we are concerned about.”
The CJI-led bench directed the Union Health Ministry officials to meet representatives of hospital federations along with the petitioner Sachin Jain on July 16. The bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna said, “At the meeting, the Union government may consider what directions are necessary to be passed to States using its power under the DMA. An appropriate decision shall be taken within a week and be placed before this Court for approval.”
The issue of subsidized treatment for Covid-19 patients at private hospitals has been engaging the attention of the top court for over two months. Initially, the Court had asked the Centre if private hospitals that got land at cheap rates should be made liable to treat Covid-19 patients for free. The Centre informed the Court that such a direction from the top court is being implemented by reserving beds for economically weak patients in out-patient and in-patient wards. The Court even suggested if private hospitals could charge the same fees from Covid-19 patients as prescribed by the Government under Ayushman Bharat scheme.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre explained that health is a state subject and states can ask private hospitals to regulate cost based on local conditions and availability of resources. As of now, nobody knows how long the pandemic will last and whether hospitals can maintain enough resources till then, Mehta said.
Senior advocate Harish Salve representing Healthcare Federation of India said, “It’s not that hospitals are making great money. People are scared to visit hospitals so footfall has dropped. We have signed agreements with state governments for reserving beds for Covid-19 treatment. In Maharashtra 80 per cent beds are taken by the Government. In addition there are several central government health schemes under which private hospitals are providing free or subsidized treatment. Hospital system is reeling under tremendous financial burden.”
The petitioner pointed out that some private hospitals charged Rs 30-40 lakh for treating the pandemic which is excessive. Salve said that people who can afford should not mind as insurance companies will foot their bills. The Court asked Salve, “Are you assuming that most people in the country have health insurance policy?”
The Court was convinced that a blanket order cannot serve the intended purpose. It was then that the Court felt that a solution should be devised by the Centre after taking a look at the prevailing models of treatment in every state. The bench is expected to take up the matter for hearing next week.