'Kanji' at Rs 1,300 shocks Kerala HC, tells govt to enforce order capping Covid treatment at private hospitals immediately
The HC made it clear that no private hospitals shall be entitled to charge on consumables and PPE kits, essential instruments like Oximeter more than the cost price at which it was procured by them.
KOCHI: Lauding the government for capping the treatment charges in private hospitals in the state, the Kerala High Court on Monday held that the order fixing treatment charges in private hospitals should be strictly implemented forthwith and the new rates will be applicable for all hospital admissions since the official notification of the order.
As regards the stipulation that 50 per cent of beds should be reserved for Covid patients, the court ordered that all private hospitals would be bound to offer treatment to patients strictly as per the order and any violation thereof will be strictly dealt with by the authority. The government should make sure that the grievance redressal mechanism is implemented soon, the high court said.
The State Attorney K V Sohan informed the court that rates per day in general wards of National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers-accredited hospitals (NABH hospitals) and non-NABH hospital rates has fixed at Rs 2910/day and Rs 2645/day respectively. This would be inclusive of oxygen, medicine and drugs, nursing and boarding charges, pathology and radiology tests, etc.
A division bench comprising Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Kauser Edappagath, taking up public interest litigation seeking to regulate the medical bills by private hospitals for Covid treatment, held that the Incident Commanders appointed by the government under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act should ensure that the terms and conditions of the government order are implemented in letter and spirit by all private hospitals. If there is any violation, it should be brought to the notice of the District Medical Officer or such other competent authority without any delay.
As stipulated in the order, every private hospital in the state should display the rates of the services to be given to the public and in particular, to the COVID patients, the court said. The hospitals should also publish the price lists of drugs required for the treatment. These should be done forthwith. The government should consider setting up a toll-free number for the entire state of Kerala so that a citizen in distress can access that number and obtain the best available option for treatment. The government should consider adding hospital beds to the existing availability from time to time depending upon the number of COVID patients reported. For this purpose, the government could consider taking over suitable auditoriums, halls, hotels, hostels and other suitable places so that the burden of a citizen to go to private hospitals can be attenuated. "If any private establishments are running any FLTC, they would be bound to follow strictly as per the rate in the government's order. No violation of this will be permitted by any authority," the court said.
The court observed that every patient and his or her bystanders inform the private hospitals to which they are admitted that the patient is either below the poverty line or unable to afford the rates mentioned in the government order. In which event, the hospital is obligated to bring notice of the District Program and Supporting Unit. The appropriate Unit can decide whether the patient can be either considered as a government referred one or to be brought under Karunya Arogya Suraksha Padhathi (KASP). This shall be done after strictly verifying the credentials and eligibility, the court said.
The court made it clear that no private hospitals shall be entitled to charge on consumables and PPE kits, essential instruments like Oximeter more than the cost price at which it was procured by them. The Incident Commanders and the DMO should constantly watch this by verifying the purchase bills and the expenses charges on to the patients. As regards the consumables like PPE kits, the hospitals only entitled to charge the actuals on pro-rata sharing and nothing more.
Shortage of medical Oxygen and ICU beds
The petitioners informed the court that Kerala has only 2857 ICU beds and the occupancy as of Monday is 2528. The court said that the number of ICU beds may run out soon going by the number of active cases. The government should exhort the private hospitals to increase the beds. The state attorney Sohan submitted that the government is doing everything to persuade the private hospitals to do so.
The state further added that the present allocation of medicine oxygen should be increased to 400 MT from the present 219 MT. The active cases are now more than 4.25 lakhs in Kerala and continuously rising. Unless the oxygen supply is enhanced, the situation faced by various other states earlier would befall in Kerala.
'Kanji' at RS 1,300/bowl shocks High Court
The court also expressed its concern over the exorbitant charges being collected by private hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients and observed that the hospitals were looting ordinary citizens by charging high rates for treatment. It pointed out that those PPE kits were priced at Rs. 22,000 and even Kanji (rice gruel) was charged at Rs. 1,300/bowl by some private hospitals. "If the Kanji is charged like this, we may find it difficult to swallow it," observed Justice Devam Ramachandran.
The court also said that some private hospitals also charging Rs 20 to Rs 30 for Dolo paracetamol. The court urged the private hospitals not to indulge in profiteering and stand with the government during the pandemic.