Activists Slam Delhi Govt Order Allowing Private Hospitals to Charge COVID-19 Patients

The order had removed six private hospitals from the designated list in Delhi, called for charging patients as per `schedule of charges’ in remaining three.

New Delhi: The Delhi government’s decision to retain only three private hospitals as designated COVID-19 treatment centres, allowing them to “charge such patient for his/her treatment as per their respective schedule of charges” has been questioned by health activists.

The order, issued by the Directorate General of Health Services on April 6, had stated that only three private hospitals in Delhi would be retained as COVID-19 designated hospitals and removed six from the list. It had stated that only Max Super-Speciality Hospital in Saket, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Sarita Vihar and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Pusa Road will be the designated COVID-19 private hospitals.

The government said it was removing the six hospitals from the list because they had not created standalone units for COVID-19 patients but had provided isolation wards within the main hospital premises.

The order said that “only those private hospitals shall be authorised for indoor admission of COVID-19 suspects and positive cases where either the entire hospital building or a dedicated separate block of the hospital has been provisioned for the treatment of such patients.”

Medics wearing protective suits are seen outside the building gate of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) hospital in New Delhi, Friday, April 10, 2020. Photo: PTI

Further, on the issue of charging fees from the patients, the order had stated that “in case a COVID-19 patient (suspected or confirmed) is unable to afford the expenses of his or her treatment, the private hospital concerned is advised to transfer such a patient to a government designated COVID-19 hospital during the initial stage of his or her admission.”

It, however, added to good measure that the private hospitals should refrain from transferring a COVID-19 patient (suspected or confirmed) who is on ventilator support to a government hospital.

‘Free treatment is available in designated government hospitals’

Jasmine Shah, the vice-chairperson of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, told The Wire that the government has been providing free treatment to COVID-19 patients in all the state-run hospitals. He said there was never any commitment from the government to provide free treatment in private hospitals as well. “That assurance was for tests and not treatment,” he clarified.

Also Read: COVID-19 and Beyond: The Necessity of Creating a Global Health Policy Trifecta

However, without much clarity on who will bear the cost of expensive personal protective equipment (PPE) – an integral part of treatment for the coronavirus infection, and with details on the schedule of charges of private hospitals not adequately placed in the public domain, confusion around the billing process persists.

Co-convenor of All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), Malini Aisola tweeted that the Delhi government was refusing to take responsibility for the bills of COVID-19 patients.

Aisola, who is also part of the Campaign for Dignified and Affordable Healthcare, cited data from the Delhi government’s health bulletin which said that in private hospitals, where 71 COVID-19 patients have been admitted, 20 are in Intensive Care Units (ICU) and five require ventilator support. In public hospitals, there are 1.343 COVID-19 patients who have been admitted, of whom 29 are in ICU with none on ventilator support. Quoting the figures, she asked: “Why are cases in pvt more serious?”

No clarity on Ayushman Bharat cover for COVID patients

In response to her tweet, one person asked why the Delhi Government has not decided to extend insurance cover to COVID-19 patients admitted in private hospitals under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) scheme. The user noted that the government had decided to implement the scheme in Delhi from 2020-21 to provide health insurance cover up to Rs 5 lakh per family every year. Incidentally, prior to the DGHS order, there were reports of such treatment being made free in empanelled hospitals under the scheme.

Health activists have been demanding universal free treatment for COVID-19 patients and an increase in the budgetary allocation of the government for this head. However, despite such demands, treatment has not been made free in all private facilities.