At least 12 private hospitals in Patna are under the scanner for charging patients more than the rate fixed by the state government for treatment of coronavirus while many others have been let off the hook because of the grey area in the health department’s order that is silent on investigations and drugs.
The Patna district administration has lodged FIRs against four private health facilities in this connection so far. It has also facilitated refunding excess payment to as many as five patients, encouraging them to withdraw their complaints.
The Patna district administration, which has been proactive in this regard, has received 31 complaints against private health clinics overcharging Covid-19 patients. Twelve among them have been examined and show-cause notices issued. The complaints have been filed either directly by patients or their relatives and friends, generally after they were discharged from health centres.
“In as many as five cases, we succeeded in facilitating refund of excess amount to patients or their relatives. FIRs were registered against private health centres who did not cooperate with our investigations,” said Chandrashekhar Singh, Patna’s district magistrate (DM), who constituted a special task force, comprising administrative officers, doctors, a drug inspector, a magistrate and police officers, for this purpose.
The Patna district administration had empanelled a total 91 private health facilities for treatment of Covid-19 patients. They were, however, supposed to charge patients within the government approved treatment rate, capped at a maximum of ₹15,000 per day for non- National Accredited Board of Hospitals (NABH) hospitals in Patna and ₹18,000 per day for NABH hospitals.
“We found that some empanelled hospitals were charging patients up to ₹50,000 per day. In some cases, they would charge patients ₹1,00,000 in the first couple of days and then release the patient or threaten to release them, taking the alibi that the government was not making oxygen available to them. We dealt sternly with all such hospitals and lodged FIRs against a few, sending a strong message across all private hospitals. Automatically, many others fell in line and began toeing the government order,” said Singh.
“Inquiries into several other similar complaints are on and we will take them to their logical conclusion,” said Richie Pandey, Patna’s deputy development commissioner, also the senior nodal officer, treatment cell of Covid-19, constituted by the DM.
The Hindustan Times has accessed a “provisional in-patient bill” of a well-known NABH-hospital in Patna that raised a bill of ₹2.44 lakh for 10-day hospitalisation between October 25 and November 4, 2020.
Interestingly, the hospital has levied ₹38,000 as bed charges in Covid-19 “day care unit” (ward type), ₹42,495 for laboratory investigations, ₹29,000 as miscellaneous charges, ₹23,960 as ward procedure, ₹9,240 under hospital procedure and ₹5,200 as in-patient consultation charge. A whopping ₹94,070 has been raised against in-patient drug sale.
A closer scrutiny of the bill revealed that the patient was prescribed costly investigations either daily or every second day. Some of the common investigations prescribed included liver function test, renal function test, complete blood count, D-Dimer (helps rule out the presence of a serious blood clot), ferritin (it helps understand how much iron the body stores), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) test, which looks for signs of damage to the body’s tissues, interleukin-6 (to check for chronic inflammatory disorders), C-reactive protein test (to check the level of c-reactive protein, produced by liver, in blood), urine culture and sensitivity test, etc.
The August 20, 2020 order of the health department, fixing treatment rates for Covid-19, however, did not specify tests and drugs. As such, the hospitals exploited this loophole to the fullest and charged patients, prescribing these tests at their whims and fancy.
Patna district magistrate accepted having come across several such cases.
“We came across many such cases where costly drugs and investigations were prescribed repeatedly to patients. We could not do much because the government order fixing treatment rates only mentions basic medicines and tests, without specifying them. We have flagged it to the health department,” said Singh.
“Doctors should tickle their professional morality and not exploit patients in crisis,” he added.
In Gaya, two complaints were lodged of patients being overcharged, said its district magistrate Abhishek Singh.
In both the cases, the private facilities refunded the excess amount to patients as soon as the district administration proceeded against them. The district administration even de-empanelled one of the 17 facilities for treatment of Covid-19 in the district after it overcharged a patient for high resolution computed tomography of thorax (chest), the government-approved being ₹3,000.