‘It does away with purpose of earlier order on COVID-treatment costs’
Slamming the State government, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Wednesday suspended for a week a new government order allowing private hospitals to fix room rent for COVID-19 patients.
The Bench comprising Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Kauser Edappagath observed that what had now been done by the government was to allow the private hospitals to fix any rate for the rooms and suites and that the order took away “the laudatory objectives of its first order” issued on May 10. It was clear from the earlier order that the rates fixed for the beds include all corollary charges like nursing, boarding, doctor’s fee etc. Now by allowing the private hospitals to fix any rate for their rooms and suite, “they have become empowered to go back to the earlier situation in charges,” albeit with a condition that such rate be displayed prominently.
The court passed the order on a petition filed by the Kerala Private Hospitals Association seeking to review an earlier High Court directive to the State government to fix COVID-19 treatment charges in private hospitals. The earlier HC directive had come on a petition complaining that the private hospitals were overcharging patients for COVID-19 treatment.
When the review petition came up for hearing, the court observed that the action of the government in allowing the private hospitals to charge their own rate for rooms and suites was very serious. The new order had done away with the real purpose of the earlier government order on the charges to be levied by the private hospitals for COVID-19 treatment. Though a small concession could be allowed in the room rates, the order really left the fixing of room rent entirely to the whims and fancies of the private hospitals.
The Bench also noted that there were some issues with respect to the treatment of pre-existing co-morbidities. Counsel for the hospitals’ association submitted that the order did not offer a clear meaning on room rents. If a COVID-19 patient had pre-existing co-morbidities during hospitalisation, treatment for the same should be excluded from the charges fixed by the government.
The Government Pleader submitted that all the issues involved would be properly considered by the government. The government counsel sought to respond appropriately to the court’s observations in a week.
The court, in the meanwhile, ordered that the operation of the new order be suspended till the next date of hearing. The court posted the hearing on the review petition on June 30.
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