SC Directs Centre To Cap Cost of Covid19 Treatment In Private Hospitals
The Supreme Court has directed the central government to put forth guidelines aimed at imposing a cap on the cost of Covid19 treatment across private hospitals in India — because cost should not be a deterrent to seeking treatment.
These directions were issued yesterday while the SC was hearing a PIL filed by Advocate Sachin Jain, whose petition seeks a regulation of costs for treatment of Covid19. He argued that, currently, there is no ceiling on how much private and corporate hospitals can charge patients. “Patients are being charged between 10 and 12 lakhs. Government has given them unfettered powers to charge,” the petitioner said, accusing private hospitals of commercially exploiting patients “to make a fortune out of their miseries in the hour of national crisis.”
However, citing variables in costs, conditions, and available medical facilities, across states, the SC expressed its unwillingness to set a cap on the costs. Instead, it has directed the central government to come up with solutions. “We are neither inclined nor equipped to see how to treat Covid19 patients,” the bench said.
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At present, the SC has directed the Union Health Ministry to convene a meeting with all the stakeholders and draft a mutually acceptable solution to make treatments for Covid19 cost-effective. Highlighting the urgency of the matter amid the pandemic, and a rapidly unraveling economic crisis, the SC directed the Center to place its plan before them within one week for approval by the court. Consequent to that, the SC aims to issue directions, based on the Center’s plan, to make the treatments affordable and accessible.
Previously, the Center had argued that it had no statutory power under the law to direct private, or even charitable, hospitals to provide free treatment for Covid19. Responding to that, the SC stated: “We don’t think the union should regulate the price of treatment. But this is not to say that the union government should do nothing. There is no reason for the union not to exercise powers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.” The Center has now assured the SC that government officials will meet concerned parties on July 16, and present a resolution before the court. The Center also stated that the government has already constituted a committee to look into the issue.
“…the cost of medical treatment should not act as a deterrent to access to medical care, and no one should be turned away from doors of health care institutions as costs are too high. It [is] essential to issue necessary guidelines to ensure Covid19 treatment in private hospitals remains affordable and accessible to all,” Justice S.A. Bobde, the Chief Justice of India, said.