Coronavirus | Can private hospitals treat all at Ayushman Bharat rate, asks Supreme Court

Medical staff guides patients outside the special COVID-19 ward at Lok Nayak Hospital in the Capital.   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the government to respond to whether COVID-19 patients, who are not beneficiaries under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, can be treated in private hospitals at the same subsidised rates offered under the scheme.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde heard petitioner-advocate Sachin Jain argue that COVID-19 treatment costs only ₹4000 for an Ayushman Bharat beneficiary in a private hospital, while others have to shell out a minimum of ₹50,000 for treatment in the same hospital.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the Ayushman Bharat scheme was meant for an identifiable category drawn from the poorest of the poor sections of society. The scheme cannot cover every strata of society.

Mr. Mehta said it was untrue to say that the government was “supporting” corporate hospitals. “The government is doing its best to support the poor”, he submitted.

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, for hospitals’ associations, countered that their revenue was already down by 60 to 70%.

Mr. Salve submitted, “We also have Ayushman Bharat patients. There are other patients covered by their private insurance. What Mr. Jain wants is insurance companies should also be covered by Ayushman Bharat”.

Mr. Rohatgi said “nobody is coming to a hospital now unless it is an emergency operation”. The court asked the government to file its response in two weeks on the question of extending relief under Ayushman Bharat.

Query to charitable hospitals

The court, meanwhile, questioned why charitable hospitals reaping “huge profits” while functioning on public land received at concessional rates cannot treat COVID-19 patients free of cost.

“In this issue, we are not likely to grant anything against private hospitals... But what about charitable hospitals who have taken land from the government? Why can’t charitable hospitals who made huge profits and continue to make profits... let them continue... but why can’t it be ensured that they do some service to society”, Chief Justice Bobde asked the government.

Mr. Mehta said both private hospitals and charitable institutions were governed by the Clinical Establishments Act 2010. The law did not bifurcate between private charitable hospitals functioning on public land and others. It applied equally. Imposing free COVID-19 treatment in charitable hospitals would leave them in a financially precarious situation.

Plea against high charges

Another virtual court Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan also issued notice on a petition filed by Avishek Goenka, who alleged that private hospitals were charging exorbitant amounts to treat COVID-19 patients.

Mr. Goenka said there should be a price cap on the treatment so that people who could afford private hospitals could opt for them and there would be more room for poor patients in government hospitals.

The court asked the petitioner to serve a copy of his plea on the Solicitor General and listed the case for hearing after a week.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 12:57:48 PM |

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