Protect Patients’ rights – our most important Human rights!

Dec 10, 2021

 During the COVID epidemic, thousands of patients who were treated in private hospitals across Maharashtra were overcharged, and they suffered many serious patients’ rights violations. On the occasion of International Human Rights Day (10th December), Corona Ekal Mahila Punarvasan Samiti and Jan Arogya Abhiyan express support for 462 Covid widows and families, who are waiting for justice after their complaints on overcharging have been accepted for action by Maharashtra government. Timely action on all these complaints would be a major boost for Human rights of COVID widows, who are today struggling under the dual burden of loss of a family member, and huge COVID related hospital bills leading to massive indebtedness.

During the state level meeting held by Health Minister of Maharashtra with State health officials and civil society networks on 12th October 2021, certain very positive decisions were taken. It was decided that complaints of overcharging during COVID treatment should be submitted to the Health department, and within one month audits would be conducted followed by recovery of excess charges in deserving cases.

Following this during last two months, 462 cases of overcharging from 24 districts across Maharashtra have been submitted to the Health department for action. Of these regarding 300 cases, one month or more has passed since submission of the case, and these complainants are waiting for the audit process to be completed. Maximum number of overcharging complaints have been submitted from the following ten districts – Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar, Solapur, Aurangabad, Parbhani, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Sangli, BuldhanaLargest number of overcharging complaints are related to private hospitals from Nashik (98 complaints) and Pune (84 complaints).

In 122 of the cases, the amounts charged by hospitals appear above rupees two lakhs (ranging upto 11.75 lakhs); in 97 cases the per day hospital charges are above Rs. 15,000 per dayand in 75 cases the charges are above Rs. 20,000 per day, which is much higher than even the maximum limit of Rs. 9000 per day for ventilator care for most serious cases, decided by Maharashtra government. It should be emphasised that in vast majority of the cases, patients did not require ventilator care, and were treated on routine isolation and ICU beds, for which charges should have been much lower.

It should be noted that ‘top ten overcharging private hospitals’ across Maharashtra have been identified during this process, regarding whom multiple and extreme overcharging complaints have been filed. Further it is a matter of deep concern that certain private hospitals against whom complaints of serious overcharging have been made, are now pressurising the complainants to withdraw their submissions. Two family members of patients from Kolhapur and Bhandara who had earlier filed serious complaints of overcharging, have recently given applications to withdraw their submissions. It is apprehended that many more patients, their relatives and COVID widows may be under pressure from concerned private hospitals to withdraw their genuine complaints. Hence it is very important that the audit process is completed as soon as possible, to avoid further families from facing such unjustified pressures, since they would be denied the chance to receive refund of their overcharged amounts.

CEMPS and JAA extend full support to the State Health department for the process of conduction of these audits. Both networks will be soon organising a virtual state level convention of all the involved COVID widows and families, to build their solidarity and reassure them in their struggle for justice. Given the entire COVID experience, today entire society has realised that Patients’ rights are the most important Human rights. Maharashtra government’s order for display of Patients’ rights charter in all public and private hospitals is another welcome step in this direction.

Now it is essential that positive decisions which have been taken at state level are converted into action on the ground – through rapidly completing audits for all overcharging complaints with refunds of excess amounts being ensured, and by ensuring actual display of the Patients rights charter in all hospitals. This would be the best way to celebrate and protect Human rights not only on 10th December, but throughout the year.