File image of the Supreme Court of India | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
File image of the Supreme Court of India | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday sought to know from private hospitals if they were ready to charge Covid patients the rates fixed under the central government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme for their treatment.

Ayushman Bharat provides a health insurance cover to the country’s poor and downtrodden.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde gave two weeks to the hospitals to spell out their stand.

The top court was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Sachin Jain, who said private hospitals that have been given land free of cost should not charge for Covid-19 treatment. On 27 May, the court sought the Centre’s response to the petition.

In an affidavit filed Thursday, the central government said the statutory power to regulate hospitals vests with the states and not the Centre. It, however, said an order allowing Jain’s plea would affect the financial health of clinical institutions. 

“Even as it said the law does not permit the central government to direct such hospitals to give free treatment because the statutory power vests with states, the Union Health Ministry opined the petitioner’s prayer, if granted, will directly affect the financial health of clinical establishments,” the affidavit stated.

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for two different associations of private hospitals, opposed the court’s suggestions on the ground it was not financially viable for their clients. 

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They said hospitals have suffered severe economic losses in view of the current Covid crisis.

Rohatgi referred to a recent Delhi government order to convert Sir Ganga Ram Hospital into a dedicated Covid hospital, which led to the hospital incurring losses.

“Sir Ganga Ram Hospital will now treat only Covid patients. There is no business left. Nobody is going to a hospital for treatment. It will lead to closing down of hospitals,” Rohatgi submitted.

The bench, however, replied: “That is good. You are doing it for a good cause.”

Also read: Doctors, nurses have final responsibility to protect themselves from Covid: Govt to SC

‘Treatment rates should be as per Ayushman Bharat’

Jain criticised the central government for supporting private hospitals. He informed the bench about the Ayushman Bharat scheme under which a beneficiary is charged Rs 4,000 per day by a private hospital for treatment. 

Jain contended that an individual, who is not a beneficiary of the scheme, has to pay Rs 50,000 for the same treatment.

The CJI then asked the petitioner if he did not want the hospitals to earn profit at all. 

“If we make an order that they shall work on a cost, but who will determine the cost,” the CJI asked Jain.

Jain then said Ayushman Bharat has been designed keeping in view profitability of hospitals. He asked the court to determine a standard rate as specified under the scheme.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, clarified the Ayushman Bharat was devised by the government for the “lowest strata of society”, for those who cannot afford private healthcare services. 

Those included in this scheme are rag pickers, beggars and similar such people, he said. 

Mehta also objected to Jain’s statement that the Centre is supporting private hospitals, calling it irresponsible. Mehta asked for time to file another affidavit on this.

Revenues of hospitals down by 70%

Salve and Rohatgi said hospitals’ revenues have dropped by 70 per cent as people are not visiting them amid Covid scare.

“People are not coming to hospitals for treatment. Surgeries have been put on hold. Footfalls are down too,” Salve said.

Rohatgi shared similar concerns. “We also have to treat Ayushman Bharat scheme beneficiaries. We cannot give this benefit to those who are not within its ambit,” he added.

The CJI, however, asked the private hospitals to consider the court’s suggestion as it allowed them to intervene in the matter. 

“We feel individuals should be given benefit under the Ayushman Bharat scheme,” the court said. 

Also read: SC seeks Modi govt’s response on plea to fix Covid treatment costs in private hospitals


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