<p>Representative image. Credit: PTI<br></p>
NEW DELHI: Three out of the four states with the highest number of Covid cases — Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu — have announced regulation of charges for Covid treatment in private hospitals. Delhi is the only exception with no regulation despite numerous complaints of overcharging by private hospitals and a significant proportion of Covid-hit getting treated in the private sector.
Even in states which have announced price caps on charges for ICU and ventilator beds for Covid treatment, however, with little or no monitoring and several exclusions from the caps, private hospital treatment continues to result in huge bills.
With hospitals asking for non-refundable deposits of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3 lakh for admitting Covid patients and patients being hit with bills as high as Rs 16 lakh in some cases, a public interest petition has been filed in the Delhi HC asking it to direct the Delhi government to ensure that private hospitals declared as Covid hospitals don’t charge patients exorbitantly or deny treatment due to lack of funds.
Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have urged people to complain if they are charged more than the fixed rate. While Tamil Nadu rates are all-inclusive, Maharashtra and Gujarat rates have several exclusions that leave enough scope for the bills to get inflated. For instance, Gujarat government’s ceiling rate for ICU does not cover doctors’ charges, medicines or even the usual lab tests. Maharashtra excludes the cost of PPE, expensive medicines and diagnostics and its direction that hospitals must not charge “more than 10% markup on net procurement cost incurred” would mean little without state monitoring of bills as patients obviously would not know about procurement costs.
Though almost all states have asked private facilities to reserve beds for Covid, a majority have banked on government facilities for Covid treatment so far. As a result, most have not regulated treatment costs in the private sector.
In some cases such as in Odisha and MP, the government is seeking to treat a significant number of Covid patients in private facilities with the government picking up the tab. For instance, in Odisha, Covid treatment, happening mostly in private medical colleges, is totally free with no bed charge or diagnostic charge and even transport to the hospital being made free once a person tests positive. However, while it is free to patients, public funds are used to reimburse these private hospitals, and the rates for treatment in these private institutions have not been put in the public domain. In Madhya Pradesh, too the government is paying private medical colleges for Covid treatment but the agreements are not in the public domain.
Most states have justified not regulating charges in private hospitals by pointing out that since there was adequate facility for free treatment in the government facilities, there was no reason why government had to support treatment in the private sector. Delhi has a peculiar situation where almost 70% of beds in government facilities are empty because people dread the unhygienic conditions and poor infrastructure even as they struggle to find beds.
As cases increase, some states are being forced to look to the private sector, especially for more serious cases as there are limited ICU beds in public facilities.