Why are doctors in Karnataka up in arms against the state government?

The bill, first tabled in the legislative assembly on June 13, 2017, was then referred to a joint House committee to address the doctors’ concerns.

Written by Johnson T A | Updated: November 7, 2017 10:08 am
karnataka doctors, karnataka govt, karnataka doctors strike, Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Amendment Bill With the committee having submitted its report, suggesting dilution of some of the more stringent clauses, the private doctors fear that the state legislature will pass the bill this month. (Representational photo)

Why did over 40,000 doctors refuse to report for out patient duties on November 3?

The doctors are opposing the Congress government’s decision to introduce a law to regulate the functioning of private hospitals. The Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill, 2017 — modelled on the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Act, 2017 — prescribes fixed prices for treatment and makes those doctors who charge excess fees, liable for stringent punishment. The bill, first tabled in the legislative assembly on June 13, 2017, was then referred to a joint House committee to address the doctors’ concerns. With the committee having submitted its report, suggesting dilution of some of the more stringent clauses, the private doctors fear that the state legislature will pass the bill this month.

What are the contentious clauses ?

The punishment — ranging from six month to three-year jail terms and fines of between Rs 25,000 and Rs 5 lakh — for violators of the fee and a condition that hospitals must hand over bodies to family members soon after a death, instead of holding on to them for payment of dues, are among the key clauses causing concern in the private medical community. Other provisions that the doctors oppose include one which has hiked the penalty for running a medical establishment without registration, from Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh along with up to three years of imprisonment.

What are doctors and medical associations saying about the bill?

The Indian Medical Association’s Karnataka unit president H N Ravindra and other senior doctors in the state have described the proposed law as being “draconian.” Private hospitals are also demanding that the state focus on lifting the standards of care at government hospitals before attempting to regulate their establishments. Doctors point out that a commission headed by the former Karnataka chief justice Vikramjit Sen — on whose recommendations in April this year hospitals are being regulated — had stated that government hospitals should be brought on par with private hospitals before embarking on the fixing of prices for medical treatment.

What is the political position in the state on the bill?

While the bill has been strongly backed by Health Minister K R Ramesh Kumar, it has led to divisions within the Congress, since many ministers and party leaders run medical colleges and hospitals in the state. Congress legislators have also questioned the health minister over the raking up of a controversy in the run up to the state polls. The opposition BJP has opposed the bill, supporting the stand of private doctors and hospitals. The BJP members, who were part of the joint house committee reviewing the bill, had boycotted its sittings on the grounds that their views were not being accommodated.

What are the health ministry’s arguments in favour of legislation?

According to the health minister, the bill has been conceived after due consultation with the hospitals by the Justice Vikramajit Sen commission. Kumar has also stated that the state government has paid the 250-odd private hospitals in Karnataka over Rs 1,000 crore through various health schemes since 2003. “As the person paying these bills should I not know the costs? As many as 12 insurance companies have complained about overcharging by hospitals. The private hospitals want to ensure that the bill is not passed,” he has said.

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