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The Supreme Court today sought to know whether the Ayushman Bharat Scheme can be extended to cover COVID-19 patients seeking treatment at private hospitals.
(Sachin Jain Petition)
(Sachin Jain vs UOI)
The Apex Court has also sought to know if treatment provided by private hospitals on an 'only cost, no profit' basis would serve the purpose of the plea, which seeks free treatment for COVID-19 in private hospitals.
The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy took up the matter for hearing today.
The matter concerned free treatment to be provided by private hospitals built on government land. On a previous date of hearing, the Centre was asked to identify such private charitable hospitals.
However, CJI Bobde made it clear today that there shall be no order against "all private hospitals" and that the Apex Court was concerned only with charitable hospitals.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Healthcare Federation in an intervening application, submitted that a certain portion of treatment at charitable hospitals has always been free. He narrated how revenues have dipped for hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.
The petitioner also made a case as to why all individuals needing COVID-19 treatment can not be covered under Ayushman Bharat.
"The tariff under Ayushmann Bharat should be made applicable to everybody. Government should support citizens and not the corporate hospitals. Health minister said that in this crisis we have to involve the private sector as a key partner."
At this point, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta interjected,
"Ayushman Bharat identifies categories of beneficiaries like rag pickers, daily wage workers etc."
If the petitioner "wants to make it applicable to all", then a reply needs to be submitted, SG Mehta said, adding,
"Government is doing its best for lowest strata of the society."
The Court then asked the petitioner whether an only-cost basis treatment for private hospitals dealing with COVID-19 treatment would be acceptable.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi then made submissions for an association of hospitals. He state that Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi was converted into a COVID-19 hospital.
CJI Bobde then remarked,
"You are making a sacrifice for a good cause."
The matter is now posted for final arguments after two weeks, when SG Mehta will submit the reply on record.
In his plea, Jain has cited news reports alleging inflated billing by private hospitals. It states,
“...when the nation is fighting a battle against the pandemic, all such private hospitals which are running on public land (allotted at concessional rates) or are running under the category of “charitable institutions” should be called upon to provide the hospitalisation and treatment to the Covid-19 patients pro bono publico/ non-profit basis”.
The petition has made a case that tariffs of other private hospitals should also be regulated by the government on a “fixed cost basis”.
Jain has relied on a 2007 judgment in which the Delhi High Court had condemned the conduct of various hospitals in the capital for not adhering to their social commitments despite receiving benefits from the government.
The plea further submits that the public health sector might not be able to handle the current burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.