M Raghuram | Sep 25, 2020 | 6 min read
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in India, the government has been forced to rope in private hospitals to deal with the pandemic. However, several people complain that private hospitals are charging exorbitant amounts of money for treatment.
Dinesh Adkar, a resident of Sullia in Dakshina Kannada district, received a bill of Rs 80,000 for his treatment at a private hospital in Mangaluru. He said that even though there is no specific medicine for COVID-19 and hospitals are just providing ventilator support and intravenous fluids, the charges are quite high. He alleged that many patients have also been unjustly treated for other conditions.
“Coronavirus has become an instrument for the hospitals to tie up patients with different health conditions,” he said.
“I just had to lie down in the bed for five days without doing much. I just had to eat, take rest, drink hot water and let the hospital staff take my readings, like blood pressure, blood oxygen content, pulse rate, twice a day. Though there was not much of medicine administration, I enquired with nursing attendants and found out there was vitamin and zinc tablets, yet my bill was Rs 33,000,” he added.
Sharat Kumar, Dinesh’s cousin who accompanied him from Sullia to Mangaluru, was asked to get tested and admitted. He had a swab test and was kept in the ward for two days. He received a bill for Rs 22,000 and claimed that they just made him rest and gave him two jugs of water.
Mohammad Haneef, a Hassan-based rights activist, was admitted to the government COVID-19 hospital for symptoms but was soon shifted to a private hospital with many other complications like hypertension, heart problems and diabetes. Haneef claimed that he never had any of them.
In another case of inflated bills, Nanjundappa PS, 70, a resident of Chikkamagaluru, was treated by Ashraya Hospital where he was charged Rs 9.25 lakh for his treatment, which lasted 13 days. After he passed away, the hospital gave a discount of one rupee, his relatives claimed. His son-in-law Prasanna HO stated that though they aren’t wealthy, they were able to arrange for the money and pay the dues to the hospital.
“During the various discussions on his health, the hospital authorities and medical experts gave us assurances that they will cure him and didn’t allow us to take him to another hospital,” he added.
He said they have filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner about the overcharging by the hospital and the attitude of the authorities.
However, Dr DL Vijay Kumar, medical director, Ashraya Hospital, Chikkamgaluru, stated otherwise. He told 101Reporters that Nanjundappa was admitted with severe COVID-19 pneumonia, had a blood oxygen level of 70% and several comorbidities such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and prostate issues.
When he was admitted, the relatives of the patient were explained that it would be difficult to revive him fully because of his age and other issues, but his relatives had full faith in us and they treated him with their best doctors in three to four shifts in the ICU, he underlined.
He added that they also called for super-specialist doctors to treat him, in addition to spending Rs 15 lakh on procuring ventilators. He also condemned the actions of the relatives who, he said, are trying to blame the hospital, despite their best efforts.
Scheme for COVID-19 patients
Even state health minister B Sriramulu had flagged the issue of overcharging by hospitals after he was quarantined in a private hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. The state government hasn’t asked much from the private hospitals so far, but since the government hospitals were full, the government was forced to ask for their help under the rates that were mutually beneficial to the patients and the hospitals, he told 101Reporters.
If a district health officer refers a patient to a private hospital, it shouldn’t cost more than Rs 5,200 per day in a general ward; if there is a ventilator, it would cost Rs 8,800 in a private hospital, he informed. He added that charges for a day, under no circumstances, should cross Rs 10,000 as the Ayushman Bharat scheme has been extended to COVID-19 patients.
In Udupi and Manipal, all COVID-19 designated private hospitals are supposed to keep the patients in the ICU for not less than three days at Rs 25,000 per day before shifting them to COVID-19 wards under Ayushman Bharat scheme, he added.
Some patients were retained in hospitals for 28 days in Udupi, but the longer they stay, the bigger the amount the hospital receives from the Ayushman Bharat Scheme, Sriramulu underlined.
Authorities find discrepancies
In Bengaluru, the SSNMC Super Speciality Hospital in Rajarajeshwari Nagar had to cough up nearly Rs 24 lakh that it had amassed by overcharging 13 patients in one week. D Roopa, the state home secretary, and senior IAS officer Harsha Gupta found irregularities in the management of the COVID-19 affairs and the hospital had to be given directions to convert 40 beds into government quota out of 120 beds which is the installed capacity of the hospital.
A senior hospital administrator of the SSNMC hospital stated that the patients wanted single rooms with ventilators and few other exclusive facilities and expensive medicines, which was why the bills had swollen, but later after the government intervention, they refunded the money.
In a series of tweets, D Roopa outlined the procedures involved in the charging of COVID-19 patients in private hospitals.
Speaking to 101Reporters, Roopa mentioned that the Karnataka government has fixed limits of rates for charging COVID-19 patients. “To ensure this, Harsha Gupta and I, with our team, visited a hospital by surprise, spoke to admitted patients on phone and found discrepancies. The hospital [in question] has refunded the excess amount charged,” she added.
She mentioned that they are authorised to take action against erring hospitals who overcharge patients, but in this case, they found that the hospital had refunded the money.
“However I found that there were requests coming from other areas in Bengaluru and other parts of the state as well,” she added.
In many private hospitals, they charge Rs 1,500-1,800 per PPE kit when it shouldn’t cost more than Rs 300-500. In Sharat's case, the hospital charged him Rs 1,500 per PPE kit and he was provided with eight kits in 24 hours.
Sharat recalled that only a nurse had brought some water to his room and she was also not wearing a PPE kit.
A Bengaluru-based PPE kit dealer, on the condition of anonymity, stated that he gets PPE kits from a Hyderabad-based company at two different rates, Rs 455 and Rs 300. He added that various hospitals get the PPE kits in bulk, bringing the price down to Rs 425 and Rs 285 respectively.
Health department officials say that each patient is required to buy a PPE kit for two doctors and four nurses each day. This allows hospitals to ask the same amount of money from each patient even if they don’t provide the necessary equipment to their doctors or other workers.
Oximeters, digital thermometers, sanitisers and even the equipment are charged to the patients. This has made private hospital treatment unaffordable for common people inflicted with COVID-19.
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