The Karnataka Assembly on Wednesday passed a slightly diluted version of law proposed by the Congress government in the state to regulate pricing and certain policies at private hospitals and medical establishments in the state.
The Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) (KPME) Bill, 2017 was passed with some modifications, as demanded by private medical establishments during the course of protests held against the Bill last week. Health Minister K R Ramesh Kumar had placed a diluted draft of the Bill in the Assembly on Tuesday.
It is modelled on the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Act, 2017, brought in by the Mamata Banerjee government. The proposed law originally prescribed stringent punishment, including six months to three years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 25,000 to Rs 5 lakh for officials of hospitals charging fees in excess of costs fixed by the state. The final version of the Bill dropped the imprisonment clause.
Giving in to the demands of the private medical establishment, the state government has also modified the structure of district-level public grievance redress committees initially envisaged. It has made a provision for representation from the private sector on these committees.
In the course of the debate on the Bill, Health Minister Ramesh Kumar said that the government will also create a separate regulatory commission headed by a judge to oversee implementation of the pricing structures and other conditions envisaged under the law. The KPME amendment Bill says that patients must be provided emergency treatment without insisting on payment in advance in specified cases.
The law also allows the state to prescribe the medical fee structure — through an expert committee — in cases of treatment under government insurance and other health schemes. The new law states that hospitals must hand over bodies to family members soon after death in a hospital instead of holding on to the body and demanding payment of dues.
Doctors and private hospitals in Karnataka have been up in arms over the move by the government to introduce the law to regulate functioning of private medical establishments. Doctors boycotted out-patient department (OPD) duties over several days last week to protest against the proposed law. The state government eventually acceded to some of their demands and diluted a few conditions.
A draft of the Bill was first tabled in Karnataka Assembly on June 13 this year amid protests by doctors and private medical institutions. The Bill was subsequently referred to a joint House committee to address concerns of the doctors.
In its report, the joint committee, headed by Congress MLA K N Rajanna, suggested dilution of the more stringent clauses in the Bill. Private doctors and hospitals, however, demanded further dilution of the proposed law, with representatives of corporate hospitals demanding removal of jail term as punishment for charging patients in excess of prescribed fee. Representatives of smaller hospitals demanded removal of clauses that allowed creation of grievance redress committees comprising only state government nominees.