‘Private hospitals robbing COVID-19 patients’: Plea in SC seeks detailed guidelines for hospitals to follow

The plea says that private hospitals are indulging in exploitative means and charging from patients in an extortive manner as capping of rates was not enforced by state governments

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Representative Image

NH Web Desk

An intervention application has been filed in the Supreme Court highlighting the plight of COVID-19 patients, exposing the alleged scam and malpractices adopted to "rob the citizens of India" in guise of treatment, legal news website LiveLaw.in has reported.

The application has been moved through Advocate on Record Manisha T Karia in the ongoing Public Interest Litigation filed on behalf of Sachin Jain which has sought regulation of costs of treatment for COVID-19 at private/corporate hospitals.

Averring that private hospitals are indulging in exploitative means and charging from patients in an extortive manner as capping of rates was not enforced by state governments, the applicant earmarks two different hospitals that have heavily charged the patients from the family of the applicant in the guise of a pharmacy bill.

"Therefore, the affidavit filed and suggestion given by the UOI are not sufficient to address the issue on hand as there is a urgent need for specific guidelines/regulations for limiting the cost of pharmaceutical and other products for COVID-19. This will also help charitable institutes who are helping COVID-19 patients and even hospitals otherwise to save cost and serve better," says the plea.

The applicant contends as the current situation in India shows a sharp increase of COVID-19 cases, immediate implementation of certain aspects to salvage the situation across India "before it’s too late" is extremely important, along with the suggestion of the Union of India, already stipulated before court as well as in compliance with the directions of the order passed by a bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, R. Subhash Reddy & AS Bopanna on July 14.

These include:

a) Formulating guidelines for admission of COVID-19 patients and discharge from the hospital. The authority in the concerned district to maintain data and status of admitted patients and discharged status for making beds available to other patients. The data that will be maintained can also be utilised for creating the list of available plasma donors in the district;

b) The reason of refusal to admit COVID-19 patients must be given in writing by the hospital authorities. This is to prevent the hospitals from refusing the patients to admit on the basis of their discretion and whims and fancies;

c) There should be specific monitoring committee in every district where all hospitals who are handling COVID-19 patients should send reports/records of COVID-19 patients and scrutinize bills with help of artificial intelligence or electronic mode (based on specific guidelines on price capping to be fixed by respective states) as against UOI’s suggestion only the citizen's to raise grievances. A family who has lost a near and dear one, will be in a state of shock, and might also be COVID-19 positive themselves, they certainly will not be physically or mentally in condition to go and raise their grievances and government should take care of it during pandemic;

d) Fix the charges other than the bed, such as pharmaceutical products, PPE kit, doctor's visit etc. so that hospitals are not able to overcharge the patients and at the same time do not face financial crunch due to the heavy cost of medicines and other medical equipment;

e) Fix the benefits for doctors and other support staff of hospitals who are the real COVID warriors and not getting any additional benefits and the exorbitant fees charged are only going in the pockets of management of the hospitals and/or pharmaceutical companies. This aspect has not been addressed by UOI in the affidavit and needs urgent attention of this court.

In the main plea, advocate Sachin Jain, petitioner-in-person, has argued that there must be a regulation for all entities as government has given them unfettered powers to charge patients.

"In private hospitals that are dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, there is no qualification as to how much they hospitals can charge. Patients are being charged between 10 and 12 lakhs. Government has given them unfettered powers to charge" he said.

The plea by Jain has averred that the issue of cost regulations across the country to private and corporate entities for treatment of COVID-19 patients was a matter of "urgent consideration" as many private hospitals were commercially exploiting patients suffering from the deadly virus "to make a fortune out of their miseries in the hour of national crisis".

It further elucidated its averments by pointing to various reports of surging bills of COVID-19 patients and the resultant barrage on insurance companies for reimbursements.

"It is submitted that if such inflated billing by the private hospitals can become a cause of concern for the insurance industry, what will be the plight of a common man who neither has a fat wallet nor an insurance cover to reimburse, in case, he requires hospitalisation in a private hospital. It is a matter of grave concern that a large section of people in India still do not possess any insurance cover and are also not benefitted under any government health scheme," the petition reads.

On July 14, the court had directed the Centre to take a decision on what directions/guidelines it can make in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 so that cost-effective mechanisms for treatment of Coronavirus can be metted out for citizens.

While the bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, R Subhash Reddy & AS Bopanna stated that it would not formulate a uniform cost and regulatory mechanism for COVID-19 treatment, it asked the Union Health Ministry to convene a meeting with the requisite stakeholders and the PIL petitioners to explore the possibility of cost-effective treatments & within a period of 1 week thereafter, a decision be placed before this court for approval of directions to be issued under the NDMA act of various states.

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