The Supreme Court Tuesday refused to fix an upper ceiling on the cost of Covid treatment in private hospitals across the country, saying the situation is different in different states and the Centre must do the needful.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices R Subhash Reddy and A S Bopanna said, “We completely agree that the cost of medical treatment should not act as a deterrent against access to medical care, particularly in present times and that no one should be turned away from the doorsteps of a healthcare institution because cost of treatment is too high.”
However, the court agreed with the contention raised by Senior Advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi that it’s not possible for the court to lay down or determine the cost of medical care across the country “particularly as conditions and availability of medical facilities determine cost of treatment in all states”.
The court was hearing a plea which pointed out that private hospitals were charging exorbitant rates for Covid treatment and sought regulation of the same.
The court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, to arrange a meeting of the petitioners with officials of the health ministry on July 16 so that they can give their suggestions.
Asking the Centre to act, the court directed that the outcome of the meeting be placed before the bench for further action.
Appearing for some private hospitals, Senior Advocate Harish Salve claimed that insurance companies were behind the paranoia surrounding Covid treatment costs as “they suddenly have to write bigger checks”. “Why should insurance companies deny payment to those who have insurance?”
Salve said the situation is different in each state and they are trying to build their own model.
Explaining the increase in running costs, he said staff who work for two weeks have to be given two weeks off and so it’s doubling salaries. “How can we have one shot formula? If there is complaint against any particular hospital… let the HIgh Court decide,” said Salve.
The CJI told the petitioner, “Your prayer that it should be regulated is valid. They are saying circumstances in different states are different… These are all economic realities. Treatment cost is like lawyers’ fees. Suppose we ask a lawyer to charge reasonable amount, you know how they will do it in different states.”
Appearing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Anand Grover urged the court not to send the matter to High Courts. “Please ask the Centre to formulate guidelines,” he said, adding that the models followed by states such as Gujarat and West Bengal are good.
To this, the CJI said, “We are not saying Union government should do nothing. If Gujarat model is working well, there is no reason why Centre should not exercise powers under Disaster Management Act (to suggest other states to follow it).”
Mehta said, “We also want to ensure that price should not be a deterrent” and added that a Committee was looking into various aspects.
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