Cap on treatment cost

Making healthcare affordable should remain the aim

Cap on treatment cost

The coronavirus pandemic has served to rewrite the priorities of the country’s healthcare system. The surge in the number of cases and the lopsided nature of the medical facilities available, where the government sector is woefully inadequate while the private sector is mostly beyond the reach of the majority, have meant a resetting of the strategy by seeking to make the treatment affordable. Accordingly, Punjab has now capped the cost of treatment for the virus in private hospitals to spare people the exorbitant charge they had to pay. The step, aimed to provide relief to the people, though seems belated and should have come earlier like in the case of Haryana. While government hospitals in Punjab have been providing free treatment, they also have to contend with huge rush and lack of proper infrastructure.

Private hospitals, on their part, have maintained that the capping of the cost is unfair as it also means treating the underlying co-morbidities. The focus has to be on clinical outcome, not just the cost. The high cost of treatment in private hospitals has also been ascribed to the health cess imposed in this year’s Budget on the import of medical equipment which most private hospitals do to provide specialised healthcare. Actually, therefore, the initiative to put a cap on the cost of treatment should have come from the Centre itself, instead of leaving it to the states.

There has been a growing realisation that the cost of treatment for Covid has to be brought down to combat its spread. Some effort in this direction is already visible with IIT-Delhi coming out with a low-cost test kit and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research suggesting a cap on the price of a drug like Remdesivir to reduce the cost of treatment. The government has been urging people to use masks, maintain hygiene and practise social distancing as preventive measures to ward off the disease. The pandemic has seen a push to healthcare but it has to be inclusive and not Covid-exclusive by extending facilities to all medical institutions and bringing all practitioners of the trade under its ambit.

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