Amid the government's endeavour to provide treatment to all COVID-19-affected patients, some private hospitals in India's capital city seem to be minting money by charging exorbitant fees beyond the common man's reach.
After a report by Sputnik on the unavailability of beds in many of Delhi's public hospitals, city dwellers are now dealing with private hospitals charging patients as much as INR 100,000 ($1,322) per day for a bed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) besides an additional hefty advance payment.
According to sources, Delhi’s premier Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket has a waiting list of 70 coronavirus patients as of 9 June, while the mobile application "Delhi Corona'" by the Delhi government showed 4,057 vacant beds in total and three empty beds in Max, Saket. The cost of admission to the ICU at the hospital is INR 60,000-70,000 (around $800). However, another source informed that the hospital is working on a package of INR 100,000 ($1,322) per day for a single bed.
A Delhi-based woman told Sputnik on condition of anonymity how arduous it proved to secure a bed for her COVID-positive grandmother. She alleged private hospitals are exploiting patients in misery by demanding an exorbitant fee.
“The coronavirus patients are being admitted as per the packages which range from INR 60,000-65,000 for a bed per day. The hospitals are also asking for a hefty amount of deposits as an advance fee. My friend was asked to deposit INR 500,000 ($6,615) to secure a bed for her relative", said the woman.
A leaked circular, elaborating the charges for COVID-19 patients at the Saroj Super Speciality Hospital, a private hospital in the city, exposed the ugly picture of healthcare in some parts of the country.
The hospital fixed a minimum bill value of INR 300,000 ($3,969) “irrespective of the number of days of stay or category of patient” and a minimum advance of INR 400,000 ($5,292) to be charged to the patient.
₹3 Lakh will be minimum bill for Covid Bed in this private hospital. Does Health Emergency means LOOT? Govt a silent spectator. pic.twitter.com/uvFn4oRYw6— Ashok Agarwal (@socialjurist) June 7, 2020
Soon after the backlash, M. Khajuria, executive director of the hospital, issued another circular and stated that the earlier one has been superseded with another one. However, they did not share the new rates.
Famous Delhi YouTuber Gaurav Taneja, a pilot by profession and wife Ritu Rathee, also had a similar tale to tell which left their followers in utter disbelief about the state of affairs.
“We tried to secure a bed in one of the best private hospitals for COVID-19 in Delhi through references. They told us to be ready to pay heavily and we were ok with it. Being a captain we earn a decent amount and in such situations, you can go to any extent to save your loved one", said Rathee, without naming the hospital.
In a YouTube video, which is trending in third place, Rathee said: “I was shocked to hear when he said that in ICU be ready to pay 100,000 ($1,323) per day, which is a basic amount and the actual payable amount would be much higher. We were left shattered to hear that and decided to take her to AIIMS".
After queuing up for 4-5 hours at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIM), the doctors denied her sister admission, saying they were only admitting critical patients and her situation was serious but not critical. She was finally admitted to a hospital on the second day, after running pillar to post.
The Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi on 5 June roped in 56 private hospitals with 50 or more beds for COVID-19 treatment, with the third-highest number of infection cases in the country and continuous uptick of 1,000 cases every day.
The state government has also asked private hospitals to reserve 20 percent of beds for the patients of Economically Weaker Section (EWS). However, the government refrained from capping the charges incurred by private hospitals unlike the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where hospitals are allowed to charge a daily fee of INR 7,500 and INR 15,000 for General Ward and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) respectively.
The Delhi government on Tuesday directed all private hospitals treating coronavirus patients to display the full rate list of services, including various lab tests, isolation beds and beds with ventilators, after reports of some private entities gouging patients.
Manish Tiwari, a former central government minister and Congress legislator, also shared that he had to move heaven and earth just to get his wife tested for COVID-19 amid reports of clinics not testing people suspected of having the virus.
My wife on written advise of her doctors was asked to test for COVID-19. Fortunately she tested negative. Despite growing up on a hospital Campus&knowing every Medical Proffessional of consequence I had to move heaven& earth just to get her tested.Delhi’s health systems are broken.— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) June 9, 2020
Why are Hospitals Charging More?
The cost of treatment for COVID-19 patients is free for all in public hospitals across the country. However, doctors are now advising patients' to self-isolate and receive treatment at home in less serious cases, in view of the mounting burden on hospitals.
Doctors, however, are blaming the variation and high charges to factors such as “no specific treatment” and the “experimental treatments costing more”. For example, a drug named Tocilizumab being used for treatment costs between INR 40,000 to 60,000 per dosage.
The added cost of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), incurred by the patient, is another factor driving up the cost. The price of testing oxygen levels, ventilator and consultation charges range between INR 3,800 to 7,700 per day in Delhi.