No one should be turned away from a hospital due to higher cost of treatment, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while asking the government to consider framing guidelines on the issue of cost of treatment for COVID-19 infection.
Though the apex court opined that cost of the treatment should not be higher at the present time, it also said that court is not equipped to either regulate cost of treatment or say what should be the best model of treatment for patients infected with coronavirus.
A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices RS Reddy and AS Bopanna, was hearing through video-conferencing a plea filed by advocate Sachin Jain who has sought a direction for regulating the cost of treatment of COVID-19 at private hospitals across the country.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that government is looking into all the issues related to coronavirus and concerns raised by the petitioner would be taken care of.
During the hearing, the bench referred to the affidavit filed earlier in the matter by the Centre which had said that there is no provision under the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010 "whereby it is mandated that the private hospitals running on the public land shall treat COVID-19 patients on free basis".
"It is again reiterated that such policies may only be defined and implemented by the respective state governments," the Centre's affidavit had said.
The counsel appearing for federation of private hospitals said that states have their own models and there cannot be a uniform pricing for all the states.
He said as far as charitable hospitals are concerned, they are already providing free treatment to COVID-19 patients.
He said each state is grappling with the problem of coronavirus and it is not that private hospitals are making money during the time of pandemic.
Jain claimed in the court that some private hospitals are charging exorbitant rates for COVID-19 treatment at this time of this pandemic.
The apex court said that concerned authority of Union health ministry should consider framing guideline on this aspect.
In June, the apex court had asked private hospitals whether they were ready to provide treatment to Covid-19 infected patients at the charges prescribed under the government's Ayushman Bharat Scheme.
The 'Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana' is aimed at providing health cover to poor and vulnerable persons in the country.
The court had earlier said it is asking only those private hospitals, which have been given land at concessional rates by the government, to treat certain number of coronavirus infected patients for free.
Mehta had earlier told the court that government is doing its best for the lowest strata of society, and people who cannot afford treatment are covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
In its affidavit filed in the court, the Centre had said, "It is therefore submitted that the Central Government, within its statutory powers or powers of delegated legislation, cannot make this particular bifurcation for the lack of a requisite statutory framework for the said classification".
It had said that entire health infrastructure has been brought to most appropriate use for treatment of Covid-19 in the country and the Centre has taken several measures to strengthen public health facilities where medical care is provided free of cost to all patients.
"The care cost in the private sector is not regulated by the Central Government," the affidavit had said.