SC: Affordable Covid19 Treatment Is a Fundamental Right
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled Friday that affordable health care for Covid19 patients is a fundamental right and ordered the government to establish guidelines to ensure affordability for such patients so that cost does not deter people from treatment.
The Supreme Court also called for a “government-public partnership” in the “world war against Covid19,” stating: “Every state must act vigilantly and work with the Centre harmoniously. It is time to rise to the occasion. Safety and health of the citizens must be the first priority rather than any other considerations.”
“It cannot be disputed that for whatever reasons the treatment has become costlier and costlier and it is not affordable to the common people at all. Even if one survives from Covid19, many times financially and economically he is finished,” the three-judge bench noted.
Reports are emerging of insurance companies denying Covid19 survivors’ claims, leaving patients with few affordable avenues for care amid a global pandemic and rapidly unraveling economic crisis.
The apex court opined the central government is responsible for fixing the situation. “Right to health is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to health includes affordable treatment. … Therefore, either more and more provisions are to be made by the [government] and the local administration [to ensure affordability of Covid19-treatments], or there shall be cap on the fees charged by the private hospitals, which can be in exercise of the powers under the Disaster Management Act [sic],” the Supreme Court ruled.
To ensure adherence to the order, the Court also directed the government to set up “free helpline numbers to redress the grievances of common man,” to enable patients to register reports of hospital charges outside those outlined in the guidelines.
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The judgment was delivered on Friday by a three-judge bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy, and M.R. Shah. It was a suo motu writ petition, which means that the court had taken up the issue of healthcare during the pandemic on its own, without being approached by aggrieved parties.
Besides ruling on the affordability of the treatment, the Court also addressed other issues plaguing Covid19-care in India.
First, the court asked the government to design ways to ensure “intermittent rest” for frontline health care workers, who have been “exhausted physically and mentally due to tireless work for eight months,” amid the increased burden on health care.
Further, the apex court directed states and union territories to form committees to conduct regular fire safety audits of hospitals catering to Covid19 patients and to appoint local fire-safety compliance officers, in a bid to prevent accidents like the hospital fire at Rajkot, Gujarat, which claimed the lives of five Covid19 patients.
The SC also urged the government to ramp up testing and reiterated the need to declare accurate numbers amid the global pandemic. “Otherwise, the people will be misled and they will be under impression that everything is all right and they will become negligent [sic],” the court warned.
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