Some debates have defied the problem-solving skills of modern societies for long. Cost of healthcare is one such vexed issue. While the state has substantially failed to deliver tertiary healthcare to meet rising demand, private investors have filled the vacuum. Unfortunately, a frequent complaint against these private sector hospitals is the enormous bills that they often burden customers with.
This week while hearing a petition on an alleged case of overbilling, the Supreme Court lamented the huge expenditure that patients have to cope up with regularly. As the people of this country have experienced, the cost of treatment in modern hospitals is way beyond what the common people can afford. There are numerous horrific tales of how patients and their families are fleeced and arm twisted at hospitals. Examples of hospitals even detaining bodies of expired patients unless bills – beyond the paying capacity of the survivours – are cleared first are not uncommon.
Hospital expenditure is a raging controversy in many countries. In India, though many governments, both at the Central and state levels, have set up many hospitals, the need for private sector healthcare facilities will always be there. To set them up, governments frequently offer land at reduced rates for hospitals and healthcare projects keeping in view their public service element.
But once the project is set up, very few hospitals adhere to the norms of retaining a share of the beds for poor patients. Worse, they start overbilling with impunity. Though some states have initiated rules to prevent overcharging, most hospitals continue to do hold patients hostage through regular overbilling with impunity.
Drugs, consumables, doctor consultation fees, radiological and pathological tests are particularly favourite hunting grounds for the authorities. Good business has moved to the heart of healthcare business. Shareholders get the real service; patients, only lip service. A government that can find a structural solution to the healthcare dilemma would take a giant leap for mankind.
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