Hyderabad: Taking a serious note of people’s complaints against private hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, the Telangana government is mulling to take over 50 per cent of their beds, by exercising powers under the Epidemic Disease Act.
With over 1,000 complaints against private hospitals regarding COVID-19 treatment charges, Health Minister E. Rajender has directed officials to prepare plans to take over 50 per cent of beds, including ICU beds, and to offer treatment as per government terms, if the management of the private hospitals does not mend their ways.
After revoking the permission of two private hospitals to treat COVID patients last week, the Health Department has issued show-cause notices to several other hospitals for allegedly fleecing their patients.
According to officials, 1,039 complaints were lodged through WhatsApp number 91541470960. Most of the people complained that private hospitals are charging exorbitant amounts for COVID-19 treatment.
The state government, on June 15, had issued an order announcing the maximum rates chargeable by private hospitals for various services provided by them for COVID-19 treatment.
The charges range between Rs 4,000 to Rs 9,000 per day, depending on the ward, and if ventilator support is provided. Some services were excluded, such as charges for high-end medicines.
The private hospitals, however, were charging much more than the fixed tariff. People also complained that the hospitals collected money without issuing bills or the patient was admitted only after Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh was paid in advance. There were also complaints that the hospitals were not accepting insurance policies and credit cards.
The Health Minister directed the officials to form a committee to look into the response to the show-cause notices and to take action against erring hospitals.
A three-member Central team on a tour of COVID-19 hospitals also came across numerous complaints against private hospitals. It advised the government to take over the reins of such hospitals under the Epidemic Disease Act if required.
The team comprised Dr Vinod Kumar Paul, Member, Niti Aayog; Aarti Ahuja, Additional Secretary, Health; and Dr P. Ravindran, director of the emergency medical relief (EMR) under the Health Ministry.
The minister asked the private hospitals to stop exploiting the patients, warning that stringent action would be taken against those failing to mend their ways. He said the government would not hesitate to seize and take control of 50 per cent of the beds in private hospitals.
The minister said while RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests were the only two best COVID-19 diagnostic tools, private hospitals were prescribing unnecessary tests like chest CT scan.
Last week, the Director, Medical Health had revoked permission of two private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients after a series of complaints against them. They were found charging the patients exorbitantly.
The Health Minister earlier this month stated that a COVID patient can be treated for Rs 10,000.
“If we keep aside medicines like Remdesivir, Tosilizumab and Favipiravir, the treatment of COVID-19 is possible within Rs 10,000 with medicines and oxygen and if an advanced treatment is required, it can cost a maximum Rs 1 lakh. It does not require daily Rs 1 lakh or Rs 2 lakh,” the minister said.
The minister had also said that they were receiving complaints like the hospitals creating artificial shortage of beds, demanding Rs 3-4 lakh as advance, charging Rs 1-2 lakh per day for treatment, not releasing the body unless bills were cleared, treating asymptomatic cases, inflating their medical bills and dumping patients in government hospitals once their conditions turned serious.
As per the bulletin issued on Tuesday, 112 private hospitals treating COVID had a total of 7,657 beds and out of them, 3,212 were vacant.
Almost all private hospitals are located in and around Hyderabad.
There have also been allegations that the hospitals are refusing to admit ordinary patients citing lack of beds while reserving beds for VIPs or those coming with recommendations.