According to a recent survey, nearly 75% of COVID-19 patients treated at private hospitals in the state of Maharashtra were overcharged despite a price cap set up by the Maharashtra government.
The rapid survey was conducted by two large voluntary networks of Maharashtra—Corona Ekal Mahila Punarvasan Samiti (CEMPS) and Jan Arogya Abhiyan (JAA)—to understand the experiences of families of COVID patients, especially women who have lost their husbands to COVID, and regarding the actual scale of expenses incurred during COVID treatment.
This survey was conducted in September 2021, with data collected by CEMPS activists from families of 2,579 patients who had undergone treatment for COVID in various hospitals across Maharashtra and who had perceived complaints about excessive bills. The cases have been drawn from 205 talukas in 34 districts spread across the state.
Of the 2,579 patients and their families surveyed across 34 districts in the state, a majority of 95.4% of patients had taken treatment in the private sector. In contrast, only 4.6% were treated in the public sector. Out of the total sample, a huge number of 1,954 patients, 75% of total cases, have experienced overcharging, compared to the official rates that should have been charged per regulations.
The rapid survey found that compared to government regulations for charging routine isolation/ICU/ventilator patients at maximum rates of Rs 4,000/7,500/9,000 per day, respectively, patients had to pay much higher rates. On average, Rs 21,215 per day were charged by the private hospitals for the treatment of COVID patients. This is nearly three times higher than the maximum official rates for ICU care in Category A cities.
Out of the total patients surveyed, 1,059 women had lost their husbands due to COVID. Among these, 73% (773) have suffered from overcharging. On average, these women and their families were overcharged by a shockingly large amount of Rs 1,72,419. Out of all the episodes of taking treatment in private hospitals, in over half (56%) of instances, the family had to take some form of loans to pay the hospital bills.
The organisations also obtained information regarding additional expenditure on Remdesivir and other specific medicines purchased separately besides medications supplied by the hospital. The average expenditure on additional medicines for patients treated in government hospitals was found to be Rs 17,000. In contrast, in the case of private hospitals, COVID patients spent an average of Rs 90,000 on additional medicines.
The report was released in a 'Santap Sabha' (Anger Assembly) held at Nashik on September 29, where several COVID widows and patient family members (mostly from rural areas and small towns) shared their striking experiences of massive overcharging in private hospitals during the COVID epidemic. This was followed by another 'Santap Sabha' organised at Pune on October 8, where similar heart-rending stories of double loss–the death of a family member, as well as devastating hospitalisation expenses– were presented.
The report said, "COVID widows and their families, the families of other patients who died of COVID, as well as hospitalised COVID patients who managed to recover, have already suffered massive trauma due to the devastating impacts of this illness. It is now absolutely essential for the state to ensure that the added liability of huge, unjustified hospital expenses (which have often been managed by taking large loans which remain outstanding) is not added to their existing burdens. Maharashtra state government must act promptly and comprehensively to ensure refund of overcharged amounts in all such instances, while as a society, we must support each of them, including first and foremost thousands of COVID widows, in their struggles for justice."
Based on this report, a meeting of CEMPS and JAA representatives was held with Maharashtra Health minister Rajesh Tope, MP Supriya Sule and State health officials on October 12. The representatives raised the demand for a dedicated drive to ensure audit and recovery regarding all such COVID cases in Maharashtra, which have complaints of overcharging, with a particular focus on COVID widows.
After many efforts by the organisations, the Health Minister has finally agreed to conduct a special initiative towards auditing and refunding excess amounts charged from thousands of COVID patients across the state.