Reimburse Payments made by COVID patients at Private Hospitals: Madras HC to Puducherry Govt
Chennai: Ruling that the Covid-19 patients shouldn't be made to pay for their expenses at private hospitals marked as exclusive COVID care centre by the Government, the Madras High Court on Friday directed the Puducherry Government to take appropriate measures to ensure that the patients get their money back. The court has directed the authorities to complete the entire exercise within...
Chennai: Ruling that the Covid-19 patients shouldn't be made to pay for their expenses at private hospitals marked as exclusive COVID care centre by the Government, the Madras High Court on Friday directed the Puducherry Government to take appropriate measures to ensure that the patients get their money back. The court has directed the authorities to complete the entire exercise within the next eight weeks.
The High Court division bench comprising of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy has further asked the local Government to make all the patients, who have spent money, aware that they are entitled to get their money back.
"The petitioner and the local Government should make all patients who have made payments to the fourth respondent for Covid treatment aware that they are entitled to reimbursement of the payments made," added the recent order by the High Court. The case has been listed to be next heard on 16.07.2021.
These observations by the court have been made while considering a petition filed under Article 226 of the constitution of India. The petitioner submitted before the court that private hospitals and medical colleges which have been earmarked as Covid treatment centers by the Government of Puducherry have been demanding fees and charges from patients despite not being so entitled.
During the previous hearing, the court noted that one of such private institution indicated that in certain cases the patients or the patient parties insisted on additional tests being conducted that had not been recommended by doctors and it is only in such cases that the additional charges for the tests were demanded from the patients.
It was further submitted on behalf of the private medical colleges and institutions that have been earmarked for exclusive Covid treatment that no money has been forthcoming from the local government even to provide for the daily diet of the many patients who have taken admission and most of whom who have been discharged.
The Union Territory Government in response submitted that Rs.20 lakh had been released to each of the private medical colleges towards food charges of the Covid patients referred by the government.
In this regard, the HC had earlier observed, "Given the many cases that were referred to the private medical institutions by the government because of lack of space and accommodation at government facilities, it is inconceivable that a sum of Rs.20 lakh has been paid to each of the private hospitals without reference to the bed strength at each of the private hospitals or the number of patients dealt with by each of the private hospitals."
The private hospitals, on the other hand, had submitted that the sums released did not cover the daily diets of the patients and private hospitals were expected to arrange their own funds for the treatment in cases referred to by the government without any immediate sign of any payment being released.
The Court had earlier directed the UT Government to take up the matter relating to payments on a priority basis so that the treatment of the COVID patients wouldn't be compromised by the private entities due to lack of funds.
During the hearing on Friday, while considering the case of a particular private medical college, the Court noted that at the initial stage of the pandemic and even at the initial stage of the second surge, the institution was earmarked by the Government to provide basic treatment to the patients tested positive for Covid-19.
However, the second surge intensified, and the same medical facility was declared to be an exclusive Covid Care Centre and serious and complex cases were also referred in there. At the initial stage, the Government had promised to pay the daily diet charges for the facility admitting patients upon being referred by the Government, but as the situation worsened in course of the second wave of the pandemic, the private facility was required to provide treatment to even the serious and complex cases referred to it.
The medical college submitted before the Court that in order to take care of the patients, pathological and other tests had to be conducted, medicine, particularly expensive antibiotics and even steroids, had to be administered, oxygen supplied and critical care provided in several cases.
It was further submitted on the behalf of the private facility that the "Government could scarcely expect a private party to continuously fund the treatment without being reimbursed therefor on a periodic basis."
Taking note of this submission, the Court observed,
"This submission of the fourth respondent gives more credence to the issue raised by the petitioner that patients were required to make some payments whether for tests or for medicines or for treatment when such patients ought not to have been charged anything at all since the fourth respondent's medical facility was deemed to be a Government hospital upon being requisitioned for the purpose."
Further noting that the Government has made some payments to the private facilities, the Court also took cognizance of the submission made by the Government which stated that subsequent bills that have been raised needed to be looked into.
At this outset, the court observed,
"It is understandable that there will be a time lag between the money spent and the bills raised and a further time lag between the bills received and payments made therefore upon ascertaining the veracity thereof. However, to the extent that some charges may have been obtained by the fourth respondent from the patients directly, fullest particulars thereof should be disclosed to the Union Territory for the relevant patients to be entitled to obtain reimbursement therefor from the Government of the Union Territory."
Asking the medical facility to submit bills and evidence regarding all the expenses made by the facility to take care of Covid-19 patients within next four weeks, the Court directed the Government,
"The Government of the Union Territory will ascertain the veracity of the bills and take appropriate measures as expeditiously as possible in accordance with law, both to reimburse the fourth respondent to the extent that it is entitled to and to have appropriate records to reimburse payments made by patients to the fourth respondent. It is hoped that the entire exercise is completed within the next eight weeks."
Listing the matter to be next heard on July 16, the High Court further directed,
"The petitioner and the local Government should make all patients who have made payments to the fourth respondent for Covid treatment aware that they are entitled to reimbursement of the payments made."
To view the High Court order, click on the link below.