New Delhi: Chief Justice S.A. Bobde on Tuesday said the cost of medical treatment should not act as a deterrent against access to medical care particularly in the present times (the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) and that no one should be turned away from the doors of the healthcare institutes because the cost of treatment is too high.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice and comprising Justices R. Subhash Reddy and A.S. Bopanna said the court would not regulate the cost of COVID-19 treatment, as facts vary from one state to another, and asked health ministry officials to convene a meeting with PIL petitioners and explore if some guidelines can be issued to the state governments.
The observations from the top court came during the hearing of a PIL by advocate Sachin Jain, who argued that private hospitals, given land free of cost, should not charge slowly for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
The bench noted that it is not possible to determine or lay down the cost of medical care throughout the country through this court. “If one state has adopted a good model, then could other states adopt it,” observed Chief Justice.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Centre, informed the bench that a high-level committee has been constituted to look into the issue. “We are equally taking care of it,” contended Mehta.
The Chief Justice said these are matters of far reaching repercussions after Jain insisted to put across his point in an ‘out of turn’ action during the hearing through video conferencing.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing hospitals federation, argued that every state has its own model, and it is not possible to have one rate for all states. “In Gujarat consensual cap pricing (on the treatment of COVID-19 patients); in Tamil Nadu, 20 per cent treated free of cost, each state is trying to work its own model,” Salve added.
The Chief Justice replied that people closest to the problem should take decisions.
Jain argued that he had urged the top court to regulate the cost and not sought directions for free treatment for COVID-19 patients.
“Patients being charged with exorbitant costs Rs 20 to Rs 25 lakh,” argued Jain. The Chief Justice replied that regulating the cost of treatment is a valid point, but, citing contentions of Mehta and Salve, insisted circumstances in every state is different, and the court shares the concern of the petitioner.
Mehta informed the bench a decision on the matter will be taken within one week.
Salve contended before the bench that it is easy to demonize the healthcare institution, and cited the enormous staff cost hospitals bear. Staff salaries are doubled — as they work for 15 days and off for 15 days — and COVID treatment is not certain, therefore a blanket order may not address the situation, added Salve.