The Congress government in Karnataka has suggested that it is open to modifying a law that prescribes stringent punishment for doctors charging exorbitant fees which the government said an expert committee would fix from now.
Doctors of private health facilities boycotted OPD work on November 3 to oppose the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The doctors renewed their protests four days ago.
Pushed to relent after the protests of nearly 25,000 doctors from private medical establishments, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has said he will relook into the Bill. “The law has not been tabled in its new form. The government has not taken a final decision in the matter as yet. It is inappropriate for doctors to go on strike at this stage. I will discuss the Bill with the health minister. I will meet the doctors again before tabling the Bill,” he said on Thursday.
Health Minister K R Ramesh Kumar said: “We will try to find a solution, we are open for discussions.’’
A draft Bill was tabled in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on June 13 amid protests by doctors and the private medical establishment in Bengaluru. The Bill was subsequently referred to a joint House committee to address the concerns of doctors. The committee, headed by Congress MLA K N Rajanna, submitted a report suggesting dilution of some of the stringent clauses in the law. Private doctors and hospitals are, however, demanding further dilution of the Bill. Representatives of corporate hospitals want more leniency in the proposed punishments while representatives of smaller hospitals want the removal of clauses that give grievance redress powers to multiple committees.
Siddaramaiah, who met representatives from the Indian Medical Association and other representatives of private establishments two days ago, promised to reconsider the Bill in its present form, on Thursday held meetings with Health Minister Kumar, who has been insisting on pushing the law through in its more stringent form.
The impasse over the proposed Bill and the inconvenience caused to the public was raised in the House on Thursday by the opposition BJP.
Health Minister Kumar denied reports that he had threatened to resign if the Bill is not passed in its present form. But he said the government has a right to fix prices for treatments in hospitals since they are empanelled by the government to provide treatment under various health schemes.
Under the new Bill the government proposes to fix charges for various treatments in a hospital and for prominent display of these charges at the hospitals. It also prescribes a six-month to three-year jail term and a fine of Rs 25,000 to Rs 5 lakh for officials of hospitals violating government price norms. It says that hospitals must hand over bodies to family members soon after death instead of holding on to it and demanding payment of hospital dues.
“It is not right to view us as criminals. Are lawyers and architects sent to jail over pricing? I am sure the government will act in the larger interest of society,’’ Dr Devi Shetty, who is the founder-chairperson of Narayana Health, said on Thursday. According to Dr H N Ravindra, the state president of the IMA who is spearheading the protests, the new Bill will cripple the health sector.