Issue GO capping COVID-19 treatment charges: HC

If it is not issued, the Health Secretary should file an affidavit explaining reasons for it, says court

The Telangana High Court on Wednesday instructed Public Health Director G. Srinivasa Rao to ensure that a fresh Government Order (GO) was issued within a week, fixing charges for hospitalisation and diagnostic tests for COVID-19 patients in private hospitals.

If the GO was not issued, the Health Secretary should file an affidavit explaining reasons for it and appear for the virtual hearing on June 10, a bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy said. The bench was hearing a batch of PIL petitions connected to coronavirus issues. The previous day, it deferred the hearing to Wednesday as Mr. Rao was unavailable to reply to the queries raised by the bench. After listening to the lengthy explanations give by him on Wednesday, the bench made it clear that a fresh GO on capping charges of hospitalisation and investigations for COVID-19 has to be issued.

“It must be uploaded on Public Health department website. You have grossly neglected this court’s earlier direction to issue a fresh GO on fixing the charges,” the CJ noted. The Public Health Director tried to explain that hospitals come under Clinical Establishments Act and the Union of India had to fix the charges in consultation with the State government. “Did the State government wait for the nod of Centre when it fixed the price of RT-PCR tests in the State in the past,” the bench sought to know. The bench did not agree with the contentions of the Director that the government had to follow a procedure of receiving the charges for hospitalisation and investigations from hospital managements before fixing the same.

Referring to the cancellation of licences of hospitals indulging in excessive billing for treating COVID-19 patients, the CJ told the Director that in such cases how would the patients get back the money they paid in excess. Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy suggested to Mr. Rao that instead of cancelling licences of the hospitals it would be better to ensure that patients got their money returned. Simultaneously, the government should utilise services of these private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients in the backdrop of high demand for beds and better medical treatment. The CJ too observed that patients would not get back their money if the managements of hospitals, whose licences were cancelled, stop operating them.

“Consider lifting action against the hospitals if they fall in line. We are looking at the larger interests of the public good,” the CJ said.

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