Coronavirus Treatment: The Central government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the issue of fixing the cost of treatment of Covid-19 patients in private hospitals is best left to state governments.
Submitting that treatment costs vary from place to place, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a Bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde that states could fix lower rates for hospitals in smaller towns and allow somewhat higher price caps in bigger cities.
The CJI, while suggesting cheaper treatment in smaller towns, asked the Centre if insurance companies should be told to release the dues for treatment promptly. “When there’s a pandemic, insurance companies can’t keep their hands off. There can be a formula for cheaper treatments in smaller towns,” the CJI said.
Senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Healthcare Federation of India, argued that “As of yesterday, in Delhi alone, out of 15,000 beds in government hospitals, 12,000 beds are empty. Concern about profiteering would be understandable if there was a rush and people were being forced into private commercial hospitals. How do you bill patients when a cancer patient also contracts Covid-19? What about cases of co-morbidity?”
He said that a cap on the pricing of Covid treatment will grievously hurt private hospitals which provide highly-subsidised services under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
Arguing against any price cap, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi also supported Salve in saying that “people with insurance can’t be allowed price caps. Price cap should not be made applicable in cases of co-morbidity.”
In an affidavit, the Health Ministry, while disclosing guidelines for states to regulate the treatment costs of Covid-19 in private hospitals, stated that these guidelines are meant to ensure there is “no over-charging” of patients.
The SG said that the rates should be determined according to the category of the hospital, illness, bed and city. “The cost ideally should be all-inclusive,” he added.
The apex court was hearing a petition by Haryana-based lawyer Sachin Jain, who sought subsidised or free treatment for Covid-19 patients in private hospitals, especially those built on government land provided at a subsidised rate. The petition also sought steps to prevent “commercialisation of healthcare.”