India

Kerala HC asks state to 'step in and control' overcharging by hospitals for COVID treatment

The Kerala High Court also registered a suo motu case on crowding at COVID-19 vaccinations centres in the state, saying it can become a 'super spreader', and sought a response from the state government regarding the same

FP Staff May 04, 2021 18:32:19 IST

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the state government to inform it of the measures taken to rationalise charges of room rents, doctors and nurses charges, PPE kits and machinery like oxygen concentrators and ventilators, reported LiveLaw.

A division Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Kauser Edappagath said that they intended to take up pleas seeking uniform COVID-19 treatment tariffs across private hospitals, labs, and diagnostic centers in the state "with some seriousness".

The court further directed the state government to apprise it of measures taken to rationalise charges under certain heads:

The high court also noted that there was disparity in rates charged by various hospitals and called for a benchmark charge. The Bench cited an example of charging for two PPE kits for the same patient for each day, whereas in a ward of 50 patients, the health workers were wearing the same kit for a full day. The court wondered why then they should charge for the kit from each patient.

The First Line Treatment Centres (FLTC) of private hospitals were found to be charging from Rs 10,000 to 20,000 for treatment, the court said, adding that it was withholding the names of such hospitals for the time being, but cautioned that this is creating a serious situation which the government should examine, as per Mathrubhumi.

Noting that the second wave of the COVID-19 would drive more and more people to private hospitals, the bench stated that the National Health Mission and Kerala Health Mission may have to play a role in the litigation.

"We cannot treat this as adversarial .. Government has to step in. People are not dying of COVID, people are dying from treatment (costs)," the court said.

To this, the State Attorney submitted that the government has empanelled Covid hospitals and in these hospitals, the rates are fixed.

The State Attorney said that 30 On April, 50 percent of beds were reserved in private hospitals reserved for COVID patients. "Charges in local clinics and hospitals cannot be equal, can they be compared? Some hospitals use German-made equipment, other use 'local' equipment, the rates would differ," he said. Hence, charges in local clinics and hospitals could not be equal, the attorney said.

"When ordinary people find beds not available in government hospitals, they are forced to approach private hospitals and exploiting this situation is totally unacceptable. Therefore, a policy formation at government level is essential," the bench said.

"There must be a rationalisation (of prices), there cannot be profiteering,", the court observed.

The court adjourned this matter alone for review on Friday, 6 May.

As per Livelaw, in its previous order in the case, the high court had stated that when citizens were being pushed to the precipice, the "state has an unexpendable role to control and contain profiteering and the chase of lucre by any stakeholder - including private hospitals." The Bench added that the regulation became all the more crucial since citizens had no reference point as to what defined a "fair price".

'Explain legal basis for price cap on RT-PCR test'

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the State to file a statement listing out on what legal basis the state government decided to issue an order reducing the rates of RT-PCR testing in Kerala.

Taking up another petition filed over over the high prices charged for diagnostic tests and treatment of COVID-19, the court on Tuesday endorsed the decision of Kerala government to reduce the charge for RT-PCR test from Rs 1,700 to Rs 500.

Owners of 10 private laboratories moved the high court against the Kerala government's decision to slash rates of PRT-PCR test to Rs 500 from Rs 1,700. The labs averred that they first heard of the cap on rates from social media and news flashes and had not received any prior intimation of the government's initiative, as per this LiveLaw report. The petitioners challenge the decision as arbitrary and violative of principles of natural justice since they were not consulted.

Madhyaman reports that Rs ,1700 had become the norm after the state government raised it from the lower rates earlier, in response to a request by private labs citing the high costs involved in the testing process.

However, due to more recent slashing of the price of testing kit and other related items, the government submitted, private labs could conduct tests at a cost of below Rs 240 and so a price cap of Rs 500 was decided on.

Instead of granting the private lab's plea, the bench saw merit in the government's argument, and complimented government for having taken the welcome step. The court further said, it was within the powers of the government to fix rates based on the costs of testing.

The petitioners argued that the reduction in fee would affect the quality of testing and it would increase financial burden on labs and hence asked for the state government to either withdraw the cap on price or give them subsidies.

The Bench also directed the Kerala government to include the RT-PCR test in the ambit of the Kerala Essential Services Maintenance Act.

Earlier, Youth Congress leaders Shafi Parambil and KS Sabarinathan had also approached the court seeking orders to the government to repeal the earlier order allowing private labs to charge Rs 1,700 per RT-PCR test. However, the petition was dismissed after health minister KK Shailaja announced the goverment's decision to cap the price to Rs 500 on 29 April.

'Overcrowding at vaccination centres could a super spreader'

Oberving that the the COVID-19 vaccination drive will become a superspread if uncontrolled crowding is allowed at vaccination centres, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed suo motu action on the matter, impleading the Union health ministry, the state health secretary, National Health Mission's state mission director, the Kerala Medical Services Corp and the state police chief, reports LiveLaw.

The court said that if such uncontrolled crowding is permitted, the vaccination drive instead of preventing the spread of COVID-19, will become a super spreader. "If such crowding is allowed, the situation will boomerang. Instead of being a prophylactic, the vaccination drive will be a super spreader," the Bench said, reports Bar&Bench.

The suo motu case was initiated after press reports about persons thronging vaccination centres came to the Court's notice.

The court in its order noted that the fear of non-availability of vaccine might be the possible reason for such overcrowding.

The bench specifically directed that police should not use force by resorting to "persuasive tactics" to ensure that people adhere to COVID protocol at the vaccination centres.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: May 04, 2021 18:32:19 IST

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