Hefty health bills, the struggles of paying up

The bill turned out to be Rs 14 lakh when I went to collect my brother's body." This is the lament of 27-year-old Christanand Maalgi, who had been running from pillar to post since February 2016 to seek help for his brother's treatment.

Three years his senior, brother Emmanuel Shankar Maalgi had died in June this year following brain complications. Emmanuel was admitted to a private hospital in February last year. The hospital charged around Rs 1.6 lakh for a surgical procedure called 'VP Shunting,' (a condition that occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collects in the brain's ventricles).

The family had no money.

"We are poor and earn our livelihood by selling milk from a cow. But I somehow managed to get some money by selling a few household items and cattle," recalls Christanand.

His brother was operated again the next day and was partially paralysed. After an MRI scan, the doctors informed the family that an emergency surgery of the spinal cord is to be done. This would cost another Rs 2 lakh.

Since the family could not manage that amount, they took Emmanuel back to their home in Bidar. Later, due to complications, he was once again hospitalised. Meanwhile, Christanand says, he approached the principal secretary of health and family welfare, minister of health and the chief minister for help, but all efforts turned futile.

He was told that the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust, under the health department, do not offer free treatment for brain tumor but only for heart. But on a recent call, he was informed that the Trust offered free treatment for brain tumour too at the private hospital.

But what awaited him at the hospital was shocking. Doctors clearly told him that his brother's treatment would be discontinued if the bill of Rs 12 lakh is not paid in full. "On June 19, the doctors told me that my brother is dead due to some complications and was asked Rs 14 lakh before they could release the body," Christanand recalls.

Eventually, it took an intervention by the State Human Rights Commission to spare him the financial burden. He had previously paid Rs 4 lakh.

Christanand's brother is one among many who come below the poverty line and are entitled to free treatments.

Chetan's story

Medical representative Chetan lost his wife Aparna and his newborn baby two years ago. He blames it on the hospital's decision to take the caesarian route without their consent. Caesarian deliveries are much more expensive than normal ones.

"She was taken to the labour room on the day of the delivery. I saw them moving her up and down to different rooms, but they didn't give me any reply to my questions," he says.
Later, he saw her being taken in a stretcher without an oxygen mask. "I called her loudly, just two steps away from her. She did not even blink her eye. It was closed."

Hours later, the incharge doctor told him that they tried everything possible but she was not responding. The baby was delivered and declared brain dead. They suggested the baby be taken to another hospital and it was later declared that the baby died too. "I still do not understand why they didn't tell this to me earlier."

Only after his wife's death did Chetan learn that she underwent a cesarean delivery. Chetan and Chritanand are only two of many who are either charged exorbitant rates for treatments and surgeries or are not given any reason as to why there was a mishap, if it was considered so.

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