The Supreme Court of India (SC), on May 27, sought to know why private hospitals - which had been given land free of cost or at a concessional rate - could not treat COVID-19 patients for free.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy asked the government to identify hospitals which could treat patients free or at a nominal cost. The bench sought the Centre’s reply for the same.
This came while the top court was hearing a public interest litigation by lawyer Sachin Jain which sought “cost-related regulations” for treatment of COVID-19 patients at private or corporate hospitals.
The petitioner referred to news reports which said that some private hospitals had issued “inflated” bills for treatment of COVID-19 patients. The petitioner added that this resulted in even insurance companies starting to reject claims by up to 50 percent.
According to a report in The Indian Express, the bench observed that many private hospitals had been given land for free of cost or at a nominal rate and, hence, “these charitable hospitals should treat them for free”.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General of India (SG) Tushar Mehta said that the government would have to take a call on the matter as it involved a policy issue and that he would take instructions.
The matter has been adjourned for a week. The court earlier sought the Centre’s view on a PIL that demanded a cap on what private hospitals could charge patients during the ongoing crisis.
However, issuing notices to the Union Health Ministry, the court said that it would not take up the issue without hearing private entities.
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The Gujarat High Court earlier asked the Gujarat government to take necessary steps to regulate the "exorbitant" fees charged by private hospitals authorised to treat COVID-19 patients.
The High Court took suo motu cognisance of news reports about various issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, including high cost of treatment in private hospitals.
In April, the top court ordered that testing for COVID-19 should be done free of cost in private laboratories.
However, following pleas by private laboratories, the court modified its order. It clarified that the benefit will be available only to those covered under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) and to any other economically weaker sections.Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic