Profiteering during Covid : The Tribune India

Profiteering during Covid

State must act against hospitals that fleece patients

Profiteering during Covid

Astudy by Washington-based Pew Research Center suggests that even before the second Covid-19 wave struck, the recession caused by the pandemic had pushed an estimated 7.5 crore Indian citizens below the income threshold of Rs 150 per day; at the same time, reports of overcharging for treatment across the country show that a large number of hospitals are placing profits over ethics even in these terrible times. Governments across the country have notified the maximum permissible charges for Covid treatment at private hospitals, but in the absence of real-time regulatory oversight, private hospitals are presenting huge bills to care-givers already laid low by illness — or, in many cases, death — of a family member.

The problem is pan-India. Complaints against private hospitals for overcharging have been made in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi; early this month, Telangana barred 22 hospitals from Covid-19 treatment after complaints of overcharging, and 113 others were issued show-cause notices; Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have taken similar actions. FIRs have been filed against private hospitals in several states. Reputed hospitals in Panchkula were found overcharging patients more than three times the cost notified by the Haryana Government — after these hospitals were dragged before the regulatory authority, they revised the bills and issued refunds.

Early this month, after receiving complaints of overcharging, Punjab’s health minister directed that the treatment charges be displayed at all hospitals. This may not be enough to thwart those unscrupulous hospitals owners who, callous to the misery of the patients and care-givers, could still fleece them. It’s unfair to expect that every defrauded patient or guardian would be vigilant and tenacious enough to lodge a complaint. Some states have appointed auditors to verify bills, but due to the high number of cases, verifying all bills poses a challenge of a great magnitude. The private sector props up India’s crumbling healthcare system — government hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and, very often, squalid. But private hospitals have long been accused of unscrupulous practices in their pursuit of profits. By overcharging a guardian in the most difficult time of his or her life, such hospitals dishonour the medical profession — and defy the law. They must be handed exemplary punishment.

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