* Insurance cover not given to many; need regulatory oversight on hospitals to prevent refusal to accept insurance claims.
* Reports of hospital beds being sold; need law to keep check and control over private hospitals.
* Migrant workers worst affected; govt should start national database on migrant workers to identify and deliver benefits.
* Students deprived of Mid-Day Meals; should be continued until schools reopen.
These are among key recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs on the management of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The Committee, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma, submitted its report to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Nadu on Monday.
The Committee has made a detailed assessment of four aspects: the country’s preparedness, augmentation of health infrastructure, social impact, and economic impact. In November, another Parliamentary Committee had said that the pandemic may have pushed many families below the poverty line, and that women had borne the brunt of the disruption.
The Committee has said that “migrant labourers, factory workers, daily wage earners were the worst affected”. “…As there was no timely dissemination of the information in the district areas about the arrangements being made for food, shelter and other facilities, anxiety and uncertainty gripped the migrant labourers and workers and led to their movement in large number to their home states.” it said.
The Committee has said that the government “should draw up a national plan and guidelines under NDMA, 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897”. “An effective functional institutional mechanism is needed for coordination between the Centre, states, and Union Territories for quick response to such a crisis in future.”
The Committee highlighted the “disproportionate availability of ICU beds in private and public sector hospitals”. It said the “threat of Covid-19 has highlighted the huge disparity of infrastructure and services in public and private hospitals”.
The Committee said the largest share of the healthcare burden has been borne by government hospitals because “private hospitals are either inaccessible or not affordable for everyone”.
The Committee has “strongly recommend[ed] that there is a need for a comprehensive public health Act…preferably at the national level with suitable legal provisions to support the Government in keeping checks and controls over the private hospitals as there have been reports about the selling of hospital beds by them”.
According to the Committee, the Act should also “keep a check on the black marketing of medicines and [ensure] product standardization”.
The Committee put on record the submissions by insurance regulator IRDAI – which relate generally to overcharging by hospitals, denial of the cashless facility, variation in levying charges towards consumables such as PPE kits, gloves, and masks, etc., or on other non-medical expenditure.
“…In the initial phase of Pandemic, insurance coverage was not given to many people… Private hospitals were charging exorbitantly high rates for the treatment of COVID patients who had to suffer a lot due to lack of any insurance coverage,” the Committee said.
It underlined the need for transparency and accountability, and to promote fair practices. “There is a need to have regulatory oversight on all hospitals working in the country to prevent refusal to accept insurance claims. The Committee strongly recommends that the target should be to make Covid-19 treatment cashless for all people that are having insurance coverage.”
Loss of jobs due to the lockdown and “uncertainty involved with the pandemic and inadequate social security, access to affordable housing, health benefits, and, other basic amenities” led to workers returning to their home states, the Committee said.
This points to the “ineffective implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1979”, the Committee said. “The task of identifying the location and disbursing relief measures to the migrant workers became very difficult as the Central Government did not have any data of the migrant workers and had to seek it from the States.”
The Committee “strongly recommend[ed]” that a national database on migrant workers be launched at “the earliest as it will help in the identification of migrant workers and also in delivering ration and other benefits to them”.
The database may also include “records of returning migrant labourers including details about their source and destination, earlier employment details and the nature of their skills”, the Committee said. This would “help in skill development and planning for the transit of migrant workers” in a similar emergency in the future.
The Committee observed that “due to lack of interoperability of PDS” across states, migrant workers were “not able to take foodgrains from PDS shops in spite of having ration card”. It recommended that until the One Nation, One Ration Card is implemented in all states/UTs, inter-state operability of ration cards should be allowed.
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme “motivates the poorest children to go to school and pursue studies”, but “only some of the States” have continued the scheme during the pandemic by delivering dry rations at the doorstep or giving allowances. “The Committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs along with the Department of Food and Public Distribution may take up the matter with the State Governments to ensure that the local administrations are delivering the rations/ allowances in time and this should be continued until the schools reopen.”