Updated: February 5, 2021 8:32:21 pm
Manisha Palekar from Kolhapur narrated the story of her husband, a public school teacher, who tested positive for Covid-19 and had to be admitted to a private hospital, which charged them Rs 14 lakh for a stay of 24 days, despite being empanelled with the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Arogya Yojana MPJAY scheme. Manisha’s husband passed away due to complications in October 2020. The hospital withheld his body for 10 hours till the dues were settled. The family has been able to pay Rs 6,00,000 by borrowing the sum from friends and relatives and had to wait for over three months to get bills and medical records from the hospital, despite repeated requests.
Dada Jadhav, a waste picker, described the struggle of getting the hospital bill for his mother’s emergency surgery at a teaching hospital in Pune reimbursed by MPJAY and various other schemes. Despite being eligible for all schemes, his application was not approved, In the end, he had to pay the bill in full and incur heavy debt, which he is paying off even now.
Sandeep Dhande from Yavatmal had to pay a deposit of Rs 80,000 before his mother could be admitted. She was declared as Covid positive, even though the test results were not shared with the family after her demise. When his mother passed away five days later, the hospital refused to hand over the body till the bill was cleared, and charged Rs 16,000 for the ambulance to take the body to a nearby crematorium. The bill of 1.5 lakh was given on a piece of paper and the family still has not received her medical records and death certificate, despite repeated requests.
The daughter of a doctor, who died due from Covid-19, broke down when she appealed to hospitals to consider the mental anguish that patients undergo. “The hospital told us how many lives they were able to save, but what about those who died. We were told to pay first and before they could begin treating my father,” she said.
These are among a few testimonies narrated at the state-level public hearing held on Friday in the city. Organised by Jan Arogya Abhiyan, Maharashtra the hearing concerned overcharging and violations of patient’s rights in private hospitals during the Covid-19 epidemic.
In view of current Covid restrictions, around 35 patients, activists and panellists gathered for the physical event in Pune, which was held observing public health precautions, while additional nearly 100 participants joined online from across the state.
During the hearing which lasted for over three hours, many patients and their relatives spoke of their traumatic experiences of seeking healthcare during the Covid-19 epidemic, as they were forced to pay bills in private hospitals, which were much higher than regulated government rates.
Excessive bills handed over to Covid patients were reported in amounts in the range of Rs 1.5 lakh- Rs 14 lakh. Many patients also reported their inability to access public insurance schemes like MPJAY due to lack of co-operation from hospitals, and incurring heavy debt to pay their hospital bills for Covid and other emergency health conditions.
Jan Arogya Abhiyan had received over 30 testimonies of patients from all over the state before the hearing and received over a hundred calls from people wishing to share their experiences in the past two days. Selected patient victims and activists from Kolhapur, Pune, Nashik, Yavatmal and Mumbai presented their testimonies before a panel comprising senior health activist Dr Anant Phadke, advocate Lara Jesani and social activist Dr Abhijit More.
Dr Phadke said these instances of overcharging by private hospitals amounted to a violation of the Disaster Management Act which had been invoked by Maharashtra government, hence action should be taken against such hospitals.
Advocate Jesani stated that patients who have suffered from such overcharging should come forward with detailed complaints, and legal assistance could be provided to enable such a group of patients to make a collective demand for refund of excessive amounts charged by private hospitals.
Dr More appreciated patients and their families for their courage in coming forward to recount their experiences and encouraged them to continue their struggle for justice. The hearing was followed by a panel discussion on people-centred regulation of private hospitals. Advocate Shivangi Rai, Centre for Health Equity, Law and Policy stressed that transparency and regulation of rates, observance of patients’ rights and providing itemised bills to every patient are essential provisions which must be legally ensured.
Vivek Velankar, senior RTI activist added that patients and consumer groups should use Right to Information and other tools in their movement for transparency and accountability of private hospitals. Dr Abhay Shukla, public health specialist, pointed out that regulation of the private healthcare sector is a long overdue agenda in the state, for which the passing of a Clinical Establishments Act needs to be taken on the agenda.
The programme concluded with the launch of a fortnight-long social media campaign to protect patient’s rights and regulation of the private health sector. The organisers called on people to widely post their experiences of overcharging and denial of patient’s rights on social media, and demand government action to regulate hospitals, using the following hashtags #RegulateOverchargingHospitals and #PatientProtectionLawMaharashtra.
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