Thursday, February 9, 2023

SC unwilling to set a fixed price for COVID treatment

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday (July 14) observed that the cost of COVID-19 treatment varies from state to state and it would be inappropriate for the court to impose a ceiling cost.

The court was informed by the Solicitor General that the government officials will meet all parties on July 16 and solution will be reached within a week.

“The decision will be placed before this court for further consideration so that directions can be issued to states under Disaster Management Act,” said the Court.

The court noted that the cost of a patient’s treatment should not be high. “No one should be turned away from healthcare institutions because of high treatment cost,” it said.

“There are several models of treatment presented before us,” the court said. “The Gujarat model is most suitable. However, there is a difference of opinion that the Gujarat model may not work in the state of Maharashtra. We are not equipped to say what would be the best model of treatment for COVID patients. We might take note of the fact that private hospitals cater to patients who have good economic status. We are informed that for the underprivileged class treatment is provided through the Ayushmann Bharat scheme,” noted the court in its order.

The CJI said: “We are informed that the underprivileged are covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Thus we accept the submission that parties will be allowed to air their views to the centre so that it can see what directions it can give to states under DM act.

The Court was hearing the petition filed by Sachin Jain, seeking directions to private hospitals to treat COVID 19 patients, under a fixed amount, under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.

The central government says it cannot dictate, but ask states to take a decision. “We cannot go into each issue. There are different terms under which land has been given to each hospital,” was the explanation.

In this matter the Centre has already filed an affidavit saying it had no statutory power under Clinical Establishments Act 2010 to direct private and charitable hospitals to give free treatment to COVID-19 patients.

Advocate Harish Salve, for private hospitals, said: “The states have their own models. It is different from state to state. It can’t have one rate for all states. In Maharashtra state, 80 % beds are reserved for COVID patients. Each state is trying to do as per their model. We have pointed out in our reply. No direction is necessary for that. They are already providing free treatment to patients. People are scared to go to hospital.”

Harish Salve pointed out that the real mischief makers are the insurance companies. Why can’t they pay all that is covered?”

The CJI said: “We see that people who are close to the problem, they should take the decision.”

Salve said: “Each state is grappling with the problem. The workers who are working are to take leave, after one week. It is not that hospitals are here to make profits from this situation. Their staff salaries have been doubled. COVID patients’treatment is different, with use of ventilators etc. You can’t simply say that one pricing should he there. I request the bench that the matter be referred to respective high courts for a decision.”

Sachin Jain for the petitioner said: “The private hospitals are charging exorbitant rates. We are going through a global pandemic. Private hospitals are charging Rs 20 lakh and more.”

The CJI said: “If you want, then you can approach the respective high courts, as health is a state subject, and we will also welcome it.”

Counsel Anand Grover pleaded for one guideline from the court and the matter should not be sent to the different high courts.

SG Tushar Mehta said: “We constituted a high level committee to look into the issue. We are also taking care of it.”

At that the CJI asked: “Should we pass a short order, or would a meeting be possible for you all to seek an answer to the problem?”

The SG said: “There are several factors to it. We don’t know how long pandemic will stay. If it is for six months, then there can be a separate model we can plan.”

Harish Salve intervened and said: “You can’tell us (private hospitals), how to take care of our businesses.”

– India Legal Bureau

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