The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to convene a meeting of Health Ministers/Secretaries of all states and UT's within one week from today in order to come up with a legislative and executive master plan on public health, which focusses on the marginalised sections of the society within two weeks.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramanian further directed the Union to file a comprehensive report with a compilation of all information received from States & UT's. The Court has impleaded all State Government and Union Territories as parties to the plea seeking, inter alia issuance of appropriate directions to regulate the cost of treatment of patients infected with Coronavirus at private hospitals across the country in order to combat the commercialisation of health care by private health sector.
In the said meeting, all the States and Union Territories, may be advised to come up, within 2 weeks of the first meeting, with a master plan, both legislative and executive, taking cue from the already existing Public Health Acts of various States and also taking cue from the National Health Bill, 2009, which focuses on the marginalized sections of society
The top court also observed that even though "public health" is a state subject, only a select few States took advantage of the same and in light of this, the Government of India made two futile attempts to activate the States to pass legislations, on the model prepared by the Government of India under the caption "Model Public Health Act". "But the state government did not act".
"Therefore, following a mandate from the WHO in the form of International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005), to which India is a signatory, another attempt was made by the Government of India by proposing a National Health Bill, 2009" - Supreme Court
Further to this, the CJI led bench observed that various provisions of the Bill incorporated very "high ideals" such as (but not limited to) sections 3(c) and (d) which stipulated free and universal access to health care services and Ensure comprehensive involvement of civil society, especially vulnerable or marginalized individuals respectively. The court also took note of the Right To Health and Right to Access, Use & Enjoy all facilities and services necessary for ensuring the right to health. "But the National Health Bill, 2009 also did not see the light of the day. The net result is that the States which have the legislative competence, have failed to act. The Centre is unable to act, for want of competence" the top court added.
In this backdrop, the court has held that the Central Government is empowered under section 62 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to issue certain directions.
Advocate Sachin Jain, petitioner-in-person in his plea has argued that there must be a regulation for all entities as the 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 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 hospitalization 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.
The case is now listed for further consideration after four weeks.