COVID-19 patients were charged “exorbitant fees” for private treatment in the absence of specific guidelines, a parliamentary panel led by Samajwadi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP, Ram Gopal Yadav, has said in a report, adding lives could have been saved with the implementation of a sustainable pricing model.
Mr Yadav, the chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on health, virtually submitted on Saturday the report, titled “Outbreak of Pandemic Covid-19 and its Management”, to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, criticising the Centre’s handling of the pandemic.
“…Cost of health service delivery increased due to absence of specific guidelines for Covid treatment in private hospitals as a result of which patients were charged exorbitant fees,” the committee was quoted by news agency PTI as saying in its report.
“The committee is of the view that arriving at a sustainable pricing model to treat Covid patients could have averted many deaths,” it added.
The panel also appealed to the government to provide Covid vaccine – when available – to the poor at subsidised rates.
“…the committee recommends the ministry to collaborate with Serum Institute of India and other vaccine manufacturers so that vaccines are easily available at an affordable rate to the general public. The committee calls upon the ministry to subsidize the vaccine cost for the weaker section of the country and especially in rural areas or the urban slum areas. The ministry should be cautious in its efforts to check instances of black-marketing and shortage of vaccines”.
The panel pointed out that the state-run healthcare infrastructure proved inadequate while dealing with the pandemic.
“Highlighting the grossly inadequate number of hospital beds in the government hospitals, the committee noted that lack of hospital beds and the inadequate ventilators facilities further complicated the efficacy of the containment plan against the pandemic,” a press statement said.
“As the numbers of cases were on the rise, a frantic search for vacant hospital beds became quite harrowing. Instances of patients being turned away from overburdened hospitals due to lack of vacant beds became the new normal,” the panel added.
Calling the public spending in healthcare “abysmally low” for a country with a population of 1.3 billion, the panel demanded that the Centre must enhance its investment in the public healthcare system.
“The committee, therefore, strongly recommends the government to increase its investments in the public healthcare system and make consistent efforts to achieve the National Health Policy targets of expenditure up to 2.5 per cent of GDP within two years as the set time frame of year 2025 is far away and the public health cannot be jeopardised till that time schedule,” it said.
Several state governments had capped the prices of COVID-19 beds in private hospitals after allegations that they had been charging exorbitantly from patients.