Greedy hospitals: govt must step in

Greedy hospitals: govt must step in

That India's private hospitals overcharge patients is well-known. However, a recent study by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Agency (NPPA) of billing by four reputed hospitals in New Delhi revealed that hospitals are inflating prices of drugs and diagnostics that can only be described as exploitation of patients on an alarming scale. The study of bills found that these hospitals made profits of up to 1,737% on drugs, consumables, medical devices and diagnostics. The study was conducted in the wake of several cases coming to light of reputed hospitals overcharging patients. In one instance, the family of a seven-year-old girl who died of dengue was billed nearly Rs 16 lakh for treatment at Fortis Hospital. The NPPA found that on an average, a hospital's profit margins are around 1,300-1,700% for disposable syringes, over 2,000% for intravenous (IV) infusion sets and nearly 600% on medicines. Hospitals charge the highest margins on consumables. Hospitals often claim that manufacturers provide drugs and disposables at high prices, leaving them with little profit. The claim is downright disingenuous, the NPPA study reveals. An IV set, for instance, is sold at Rs 5.2 to the distributor and Rs 8.39 to the hospital. The hospital charges the patient Rs 115 for the set and gets a whopping 2,112% margin on the distributor price.  

The problem of overcharging is neither limited to the four hospitals investigated by NPPA nor to New Delhi. It is a malaise that afflicts private hospitals across the country. Only recently, doctors in private hospitals went on strike to oppose a proposed legislation that seeks to fix rates for medical procedures at private hospitals and demands greater accountability from the medical fraternity. What do these doctors and hospitals have to say in response to the NPPA's findings?  

Providing patients with quality treatment and state-of-the-art facilities is an expensive affair. But surely, there must be a limit to overcharging. Do hospitals have to make a killing out of providing medical treatment? Has the medical fraternity lost its ethics completely? Ideally, it is the medical fraternity and its watchdog bodies that should be regulating doctors and hospitals. But with these committed to profiteering and exploiting patients to the maximum level, the time has come for the government to step in. The NPPA study provides ample evidence that running hospitals has become just a business, and an exploitative one at that. It would be unconscionable on the part of the government to not demand greater accountability from private hospitals, especially in the matter of pricing of disposables, drugs and medical devices. India's private and public healthcare systems are in need of reform.  

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