- Doctors refer to cases where patients were billed thrice the normal rates
- Maharashtra govt directs hospitals not to charge exorbitantly, imposes price caps
- Hospitals argue that costs treatments are patient-specific and cannot be generalised
- Pull up erring hospitals, but do not impose price caps across the board, hospitals plead
Can a COVID-19 patient end up with a hospital bill running as high as Rs 4 lakh for a day's treatment? Yes, say some doctors, referring to bills from some of the leading Indian private hospitals. They point out that most of the charges - be it for pathology, radiology tests or others - are at least three times the usual charges. In some cases, cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the patient is billed for is also way beyond the MRP. Therefore, it is not without reason that the Maharashtra government has come up capped charges that hospitals can levy for treatment of coronavirus. [Some of the doctors treating these patients have talked of elements like care and hygiene charges that run into few thousands and the usually long list of consumables getting even longer. Plus lot of miscellaneous charges and expenses getting added.]
The Maharashtra government in a notification has prohibited hospitals "from charging more amount than that applicable to lowest bed category irrespective of the availability of beds in the lowest category". The state government notification further says that "healthcare providers that have agreements with various TPAs will provide treatment at the lowest package rate prevailing among the various TPAs in its facility". It specifically states that "items/services including intraocular lenses (IOL), pacemakers, orthoprosthesis, stents, staplers, guide-wires, catheters, balloons, medical implants, consumables, PPEs (Personal Protective Equipments) shall not charge more than 10 per cent mark up on their net procurement cost incurred".
Some of the leading private corporate hospitals are, however, miffed with the price cap. Their argument is that treatments are all patient-specific and the costs therefore cannot be generalised. Plus, providing COVID-19 treatment was an expensive proposition for hospitals as several additional costs had to be incurred, along with higher financial compensation to the medical staff attending to coronavirus cases, and cost of providing transport facility, separate accommodation and meals to them within the hospital during the period of lockdown. They argue that if there are erring hospitals then the government should take action against them and desist from imposing blanket curbs and price caps across the board. Hospital managements are trying to talk to the state government and represent their case. Hospitals stated that only Maharashtra is the only state that has imposed such price caps.
The Maharashtra government's bid to impose a cap on fees of COVID-19 treatment at private hospitals, has been imposed in keeping with the the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Act. The state Health Minister Rajesh Tope was also recently reported to have announced that all citizens will be covered under the state government's health scheme, making Maharashtra the first state to provide free and cashless insurance protection to its people.