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[COVID 19] "Cost of Treatment Should Not Act As A Deterrent For Access To Medical Care" : Supreme Court

Sanya Talwar
14 July 2020 2:21 PM GMT
[COVID 19] Cost of Treatment Should Not Act As A Deterrent For Access To Medical Care : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to take a decision on what directions/guidelines it can make in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 so that cost-effective mechanisms for treatment of Coronavirus can be metted out for citizens.

Chief Justice SA Bobde on Tuesday stated that "the cost of medical treatment must not act as a deterrent against access to medical care particularly in the present times and no one should be turned away from the doors of healthcare institutes because the cost of treatment is too high".

While the bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, R Subhash Reddy & AS Bopanna stated that it would not formulate a uniform cost and regulatory mechanism for COVID19 treatment, it asked the Union Health Ministry to convene a meeting with the requisite stakeholders and the PIL petitioners to explore the possibility of cost-effective treatments & within a period of 1 week thereafter, a decision be placed before this court for approval of directions to be issued under the NDMA act of various states.

The Court also noted that it was not possible to lay down the cost of treatment for medical care throughout the country as different states had different needs and requirements. The bench made these observations in a plea by Advocate Sachin Jain seeking free of cost treatment from private hospitals which had been given free land by Government.

CJI: "We don't think Union should regulate price of Treatment. But this is not to say that the Union Government should do nothing. If Gujarat Model is suitable, no reason for the Union not to exercise powers under the NDMA, 2005. "Reasonable" is different in different places. We are not saying your motives and prayers are incorrect. We share the same concern"

Senior Advocate Harish Salve appearing for hospitals federation argued that that each state had a different model and that it was not possible to have one rate for all states. 

"In Gujarat consensual cap pricing (on the treatment of Covid-19 patients); in Tamil Nadu 20 per cent treated free of cost, each state is trying to work its own model," Salve added.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre submitted that a high-level committee has already been constituted to look into the issue. "We are equally concerned about this and taking care of it" said Mehta.

On June 5, The Union government had filed an affidavit stating that it had no statutory power to direct private and charitable hospitals to give free treatment to covid19 patients.

Advocate Sachin Jain, petitioner-in-person argued that there must be a regulation for all entities as government has given them unfettered powers to charge patients.

"In Private hospitals that are dedicated covid hospitals, there is no qualification as to how much they hospitals can charge. Patients are being charged between 10 and 12 lakhs. Government has given them unfettered powers to charge" he said.

The plea by Jain has averred that the issue of cost regulations across the country to private and corporate entities for treatment of COVID19 patients was a matter of "urgent consideration" as many private hospitals were commercially exploiting patients suffering from the deadly virus "to make a fortune out of their miseries in the hour of national crisis".

It further elucidated its averments by pointing to various reports of surging bills of covid patients and the resultant barrage on insurance companies for reimbursements.

"It is submitted that if such inflated billing by the private hospitals can become a cause of concern for the insurance industry, what will be the plight of a common man who neither has a fat wallet nor an insurance cover to reimburse, in case, he requires hospitalisation in a private hospital. It is a matter of grave concern that a large section of people in India still do not possess any insurance cover and are also not benefitted under any government health scheme." - the petition reads.

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