The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the representatives of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to meet the petitioners and the interveners on July 16 so that direction/ guidelines can be formulated by the Central Government on uniformity in pricing and price cap in the treatment of COVID-19 in private hospitals across the country.
“No one should be turned away from the doors of healthcare institutions because the cost of treatment is too high”, the CJI remarked.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Sachin Jain seeking nationwide cost related regulations for treatment of COVID-19 patients at Private/Corporate Hospitals. The plea alleged commercial exploitation of the patients by the private hospitals.
The court also heard intervention applications filed by All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) and Jan Sawasthya Abhiyan-Mumbai (JSA-Mumbai)-civil society organizations- working on issues related to public health and providing on ground support to COVID-19 patients.
Senior advocate Mr. Harish Salve appearing on behalf of associations of private hospitals, NATHEALTH and AHPI, argued that a uniform price cap on treatment rates across all state borders would not be practical.
However Senior Advocates, Mr. Anand Grover, Mr. Mihir Desai, assisted by Advocates Nupur Kumar and Irshaan Kakar, appearing on behalf of AIDAN and JSA-Mumbai argued that guidelines were required to address various practices responsible for exorbitant billing by private hospitals (such as overcharging of PPE) and loopholes in existing measures implemented by various state governments, as well as to encourage adoption of models of states where free treatment is being provided.
The intervenors urged the court to direct the Centre to take measures in this regard under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
It was also pointed out that many states have taken some measures towards the price capping etc., however, the measures are not uniform and resultantly many loopholes exist for overcharging and profiteering by the private hospitals.
During the hearing, the court observed that though a particular ceiling on the cost of treatment might not be practicable for all states, the cost of medical treatment should not act as a deterrent to deter against access to medical care, particularly in the present time.