The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said the Delhi government cannot “turn a blind eye" to overcharging of COVID-19 patients by private hospitals in the city and directed it to hold a meeting of all stakeholders to arrive at a “realistic" amount so that people are not fleeced. “We want this taken up on top priority," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said and also asked the Delhi government why it had not done anything till now to address this “serious" issue.
“Merely because there were no complaints, the situation on the ground cannot be ignored. We agree (with the petitioner) that you cannot turn a blind eye to it. “We had asked you to again speak to all stakeholders. That exercise should have been done. You could have seen the condition on the ground, spoken to all the stakeholders and then arrived at a reasonable figure so that people are not fleeced," the bench said.
The court also said that once they arrive at a figure, then it has to be enforced by all means. It asked the Delhi government why it has not done anything till now despite the court “repeatedly" telling them to do something on this issue.
It referred to a hospital bill, placed on record by petitioner and lawyer Abhay Gupta, in which the ICU package price was Rs 30,000, but the charges for Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine, oxygen, monitors, etc were additional and to the tune of thousands of rupees per day. The bench said that prima facie the BiPAP machine, monitors, oxygen, etc all ought to have been part of the ICU package and therefore, the issue raised by Gupta of overcharging was “serious". It said that the Delhi government was right to say that the private hospitals have to be taken along, during the pandemic, “but that does not mean they can be so exorbitant".
Senior advocate and amicus curiae Rajshekhar Rao told the court that according to his research, a whole bunch of private hospitals were refusing to admit patients, even if they had cashless insurance cover, unless they deposit Rs 50,000. “Some of these practices have to stop," he said.
The court said that the government can have different slabs based on services offered so that there is transparency and each hospital does not charge whatever they feel like. It said it does not want to pass an order saying that all private hospitals and nursing homes have to adhere to the rates fixed by the Delhi government last year as then they would be “up in arms" and may not provide services.
“But then you should come up with a realistic figure," the bench said to the government. The court directed the Health Secretary to convene a meeting of a cross section of all hospitals and their associations as well as the amicus curiae to discuss the aspect of uniformity and rationalisation of charges levied by private hospitals and nursing homes. The bench said based on what transpired in the meeting, the Delhi government shall issue an order on the amounts to be charged by private healthcare institutions for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
The Delhi government told the court that it will try to arrive at a formula which would satisfy all the stakeholders and would also benefit the citizens.