New Delhi: Many Covid-19 patients in Delhi have complained that private hospitals are charging them an “exorbitant” fee for the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by their doctors and healthcare workers.
Dinesh Gaur, 27, got discharged from Max Hospital, Saket, on 20 May after spending nine days in the Covid ward. His bill, which has been accessed by ThePrint, came to Rs 4,80,000, of which over Rs 70,000 was the fee for PPE kits.
“They charged us Rs 4,300 for the PPE for some days and Rs 8,900 for the PPE for others. This is a mind-boggling fee, given how we are paying so much for the treatment and the additional costs,” Dinesh’s brother Surinder Gaur told ThePrint.
A doctor’s shift in a Covid ICU ward can range from six to eight hours, depending on the hospital, and during that shift, the doctor can treat as many patients as there are in the ICU ward, wearing that one PPE kit.
Max Hospital, however, defended its PPE fee and said it is “as per industry standards and global norms”.
“It’s true that the doctor doesn’t treat just one patient wearing the PPE kit. But the assumption is that we are charging the fee only for the doctor’s PPE kit, but it’s also for the nursing staff, the cleaning and catering staff — all have to enter the ward wearing a PPE kit,” a spokesperson told ThePrint.
Explaining that one PPE kit costs the hospital Rs 1,100, the spokesperson said: “In our Covid ICU ward, eight PPEs per day per patient is the consumption norm. This is why we are charging a patient up to Rs 9,000 per day for the PPE kits.”
Similar stories elsewhere
The problem, however, is not restricted to one hospital. The family of a woman patient who got treated at Apollo Hospital in Jasola had a similar story to tell.
“She is a cancer patient, so as it is, we are paying a lot for her chemotherapy treatment. Then, they charged us close to Rs 70,000 for the PPE kits for the 12 days she was treated for Covid,” her husband told ThePrint, refusing to be named.
An Apollo Hospital spokesperson said the minimum charge for a PPE kit is Rs 600, but the maximum can vary.
A Delhi resident, who also did not want to be identified, said her uncle was charged Rs 10,000 per day for PPE kits at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. “He was there for a month and the total bill was Rs 15 lakh. Of this, Rs 10,000 per day was just the PPE kit fee,” she said. ThePrint has confirmed her claim by checking the bill.
ThePrint has approached Sir Ganga Ram Hospital through calls, messages and email, and this report will be updated when the hospital responds.
Hospitals have also cited a FICCI ‘accounting methodology’, which puts the PPE kit average costing at Rs 10,000 per day.
Govt allows hospitals to charge what they want
Last Sunday, the Delhi government issued an order stating that all private hospitals with 50 or more beds would need to set aside 20 per cent of their bed strength for Covid-19 patients. A total of 117 private hospitals in Delhi meet this criterion, including Ganga Ram, Apollo, Max, Fortis, and Batra Hospital.
However, the government has not set a cap on what the hospitals can charge — instead, the order categorically states they can bill the patients according to their discretion.
“These 117 private hospitals shall bill the Covid-19 patients as per their respective schedule of charges,” the order states.
ThePrint also approached Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain via calls, text and email, but didn’t receive a response.
Healthcare experts said charging patients for the use of PPE kits may be an “unfair burden”.
“The whole reason why PPE has been necessitated is in order to protect healthcare workers and to limit the spread of the disease,” Malini Aisola, co-convenor of All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), told ThePrint.
“Then I wonder why both Covid and non-Covid patients ought to be burdened by additional costs that are a direct result of universal precautions being practised during a public health crisis,” she said.
Experts have also suggested that patients are opting out of Covid treatment just to escape this additional payment.
“Covid treatments in private hospitals are so expensive. So, when people are hearing about the additional burden of PPE kit payment, they are choosing to die at home rather than getting treated at a private hospital,” said Saima Furqan, regional programme officer of Pallium India, an organisation working to improve palliative care.