As coronavirus cases cross 150,000, claiming more than 4,300 lives, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to identify a list of private hospitals that can treat Covid-19 patients for free or at a minimum cost.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde hearing the matter via video-conferencing, observed that there are private hospitals that have been given land either free of cost or at nominal rates, so they should treat coronavirus infected patients for free.
“These charitable hospitals should treat patients for free,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing after one week.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre said that since it was a policy issue the government will need to take a decision on the matter. Mehta said he would file a response on the issue.
The bench was hearing an application filed in a plea which has sought a direction for regulating the cost of treatment of Covid-19 at private hospitals across the country.
Private hospitals however, are concerned that the move with put further strain on their resources and will not will be a sustainable move.
“If government can take care of our costs then we are happy to treat patients for free…Hospitals are already under stress and they are not making money in Covid…We have to pay salaries, buy protective equipment…..At this rate it will be hard for healthcare sector to survive,” said Alok Roy, Chair-Ficci Health Services Committee and Chairman, Medica Group of Hospitals.
The government has been ramping up to cope with the increasing number of cases. For instance, it recently ordered procurement of 15,000 ventilators, to add to the 20,000 it had earlier.
There are roughly around 850,000 private hospital beds in the country, accounting for over half of India’s hospital beds, according to industry estimates. Of this, around 100,000-150,000 are tertiary care beds. Roughly, 20 per cent of a tertiary care hospital’s bed capacity are ICU beds.
Covid patients requiring critical care have been struggling to find beds in Mumbai, which has recorded the maximum number of Coronavirus positive cases in the country.
“This move could bleed the private hospitals segment even further which is already at 20-30 per cent occupancy today. As a private hospital we have rates fixed for wards and ICUs and players should not be overcharging. Anyway there has been a cap on testing kits,” said Somesh Mittal, CEO of Vikram Hospital in Bengaluru.
“The government should open up an offer asking interested hospitals to surrender their space and manpower for Covid-19 and it should start paying the salaries to the employees,” he added.
Private hospitals are complaining of inadequate support from the government in the form of a stimulus or cash infusion, as the government funds have gone largely towards Covid-related manufacturing capabilities.
On April 30, the Supreme Court had sought the response of the government on a plea filed by advocate Sachin Jain, alleging that private hospitals are “commercially exploiting” patients suffering from coronavirus in this hour of crisis.
The petition has said that the government should mandate private hospitals which are running on public land allotted at concessional rates or running under the category of charitable institutions to at least for the present, treat COVID-19 patients either pro bono publico (for public good) or on a no-profit basis.
“The issue requires an urgent consideration of this court as many private hospitals are commercially exploiting the patients suffering from COVID-19 to make a fortune out of their miseries in the hour of national crisis,” the plea has alleged.
It has also sought a direction to the Centre to bear the cost of COVID-19 treatment at private hospitals for the poor and vulnerable, who neither have any insurance cover nor have coverage under government schemes like Ayushman Bharat, and also of those who have the coverage but the cost of treatment surpasses their reimbursement.
The petition said that the Centre had exercised powers under the Disaster Management Act to regulate the cost of tests for Covid-19 in the private health sector and could do the same to regulate the cost of treatment in private hospitals to combat the pandemic.