Private hospitals charged exorbitant fees; spending on health abysmally low: Parliament panel on COVID-19

This is the first report by any parliamentary committee on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic

Amid rising COVID-19 cases, inadequate beds in government hospitals and absence of specific guidelines for COVID treatment resulted in private hospitals charging exorbitant fees, a parliamentary panel on Saturday said, asserting that a sustainable pricing model could have averted many deaths.

Chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on health Ram Gopal Yadav submitted the report on ‘Outbreak of Pandemic Covid-19 and its Management’, to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

This is the first report by any parliamentary committee on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Underlining that healthcare spending in the country with a population of 1.3 billion is “abysmally low”, the panel said fragility of Indian health ecosystem posed a big hurdle in generating an effective response against the pandemic.

“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 % 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,” the report stated.

The National Health Policy 2017 has set a target of government expenditure on healthcare up to 2.5 % of GDP by 2025 from just 1.15 % in 2017.

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Stating that the public had to undergo trauma and distress due to absence of a dedicated healthcare system, the committee observed that the number of government hospital beds in the country were not adequate to handle the increasing number of COVID and non-COVID patients.

“… 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 noted in the report.

Stressing on the need for better partnership between the government and private hospitals in wake of the pandemic and shortage of state-run healthcare facilities, the report said, “The Committee is of the view that arriving at a sustainable pricing model to treat COVID patients could have averted many deaths”.

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“The committee believes healthcare should never be limited to only those who can afford to pay but should move towards the noble vision of universal health coverage. For this happen, the government needs to be considerate and support the private health care sector,” the report said.

The committee praised healthcare workers and doctors for being on the frontline in handling of the deadly virus and said they should have defined working hours, predictably functioning reliever rosters and scheduled off-duty days.

“The doctors, who have laid down their lives in fight against the pandemic, must be acknowledged as martyrs and their families be adequately compensated,” it suggested in the report.

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