The Supreme Court Wednesday sought to know “why can’t private hospitals, given land free of cost, treat Covid-19 patients for free”.
Seeking a reply from the Centre on a PIL which sought “cost-related regulations for treatment of Covid-19 patients at private/ corporate hospitals”, the bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy asked it to identify hospitals which could treat these patients free or at very nominal cost.
Hearing a plea by Sachin Jain, an advocate, the bench observed that many private hospitals have been given land either free of cost or at a very nominal cost, and that “these charitable hospitals should treat them for free”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the question involves a policy issue and will have to be decided by the government. He said he will take instructions.
Last month, the Supreme Court had ordered that Covid-19 testing should be free in private laboratories. Following petitions by laboratories, the court modified its order and clarified that the benefit will be available only to those covered under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) and to any other economically weaker sections as may be notified by the government.
In his plea, Jain referred to news reports which said that some hospitals had issued “inflated” bills for treating Covid-19 patients with the result that even insurance companies had started rejecting claims by up to 50 per cent.
“If such inflated billing by private hospitals can become a cause of concern for the insurance industry, what will be the plight of a common man who neither has a fat wallet nor an insurance cover to reimburse, in case, he requires hospitalisation in a private hospital,” the PIL stated.
Jain contended that “it is a matter of grave concern that a large section of people in India still do not possess any insurance cover and are also not benefitted under any government health scheme” and sought the court’s “urgent intervention… to determine as to what would be the fate of these citizens in case the pandemic grows and the public healthcare system reaches a saturation level”.
He said that given the resource constraints, the public sector alone may not be able to handle the fallout of the pandemic and would require the participation of the private sector too.
It “becomes expedient for the State to promptly combat commercial exploitation by private hospitals and bring in place adequate regulations on the tariff structure for regulating private hospitals for treatment of Covid-19 patients to make them affordable and accessible,” he said.
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