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Liberal Looting

Liberal Looting

Coronavirus cases are quickly increasing across the globe. In such a situation, the doctors are playing a vital role in saving people’s life by taking immediate action on positive test results of coronavirus. Indeed, a  doctor is boosted to a demi-god status whenever a crisis hits humans. The coronavirus  pandemic is a horrific situation during which the doctors are doing day and night duties to fight with coronavirus and save the life of every patient. At the same time, some private hospitals are spoiling doctors’ images by charging extortionate prices from patients or by fleecing patients. Most of them are focusing on profit-making over patients in the pandemic. 

The proceeding  Covid-19 outbreak has impacted healthcare companies, which claim declining footfalls, as well as rising consumables and staff costs, have put their very survival at stake. The cost of running a COVID hospital is very high and 50% of that is fixed costs. As a result, private hospitals are charging Rs.10,000 per  PPE Kit. If the patient shifts to ICU, the hospital will charge Rs.1 lakh. The poor are being turned away and the needy are looted.  Due to the limited number of hospital beds and high demand for the same, many people are doing black marketing of hospital beds.

In one of the  Chennai hospitals, an official asked for Rs.40,000 to Rs.50,000 per day for treating Covid-19 patients in the hospital ward. Relatives of Covid-19 patients who were admitted to private hospitals were overcharged. When Chennai has recorded over 15,000 coronavirus cases, some private hospital management is taking advantage of this situation and they have started fleecing patients. Some private hospitals are dealing with patients in a thrashing way when a patient or family member is not able to pay the full amount charged by hospitals. 

The very  shocking incident  happened in a private hospital located at Shajapur in  Madhya Pradesh. An 80-year-old man was allegedly tied to a bed in a private hospital as his family members failed to pay the hospital bills. Going by details, the family members of the elderly man deposited an amount of Rs.11,000 in the beginning. After a few days of treatment, the hospital authorities forced them to pay another Rs.11,000. The daughter of the elderly man requested the hospital authorities to discharge him as she could not pay the bill. Thus, the old man was tied to the bed after his daughter failed to pay Rs.11,000. The daughter of the old man said that they have lost their livelihood due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and left with no money.

When the matter went to the public, doctors started making false reasons like “The old man was having convulsions because of electrolyte imbalance. We tied him so that he could not hurt himself.” When political parties get involved in this matter, one of the politicians said that there is no stop for the private hospitals to loot the common people and it is continuing amidst the coronavirus crisis.  He demanded that strict action should be taken against those who have been responsible for the act. After this statement, the Shajapur district authorities ordered a probe into the matter and as we know the investigation will have no positive end. 

Another loot happened in Mumbai hospital. As corona cases are on the peak in Mumbai, life in that city is very tough these days because people are not allowed to go outside, even to buy groceries they have to place an order by online-only due to rapid increase in corona cases. Even if they order from outside there are huge chances to infect with viruses. In such a bad situation, many private hospitals like   Kasturba Hospital  are looting patients by demanding to pay  exorbitant prices.  A family which lost their 25-year-old son to Covid-19 had to make frantic arrangements for nearly Rs.4 lakh as seven members in that family tested positive and had to be moved to a private hospital from the quarantine centre. The young boy-patient who died due to coronavirus had sent voice messages to his brother before he died. These voice messages were recorded when he got to know about his mother and family members becoming Covid-19 positive. In his voice message, he said to his brother that he was scared that his mother would face the same fate and about alleged neglect at the civic-run Kasturba Hospital, an experience they did not want another of them to go through. Before admitted, they charged 1 lakh rupees which his family had paid. But after his death, the doctors were demanding more while admitting other family members in the hospital.

Abraham Mathai , who heads an  NGO , said one of his old friends who was admitted to Nanavati Hospital, had also paid hefty sum as deposit and is getting a bill of over Rs.4 lakh, which the Insurer has refused to cover. A 12-day stay at a private hospital to cure coronavirus can cost more than   Rs.8 lakh. Pan India, the average stay can cost anywhere between Rs.40,000-50,000 a day. The amount is likely to go up if the patient is shifted to the Intensive Care Unit or is put on ventilator support.

In my locality in Bengaluru a person of a middle-class family was found to be Covid-19 positive. When the authorities asked him to get admitted to a hospital, he refused for two reasons: one is the ‘pathetic condition’ prevailing in the government hospitals and the second is the ‘exorbitant money’ that the private hospitals extract from the Covid-19 patients. He was shrewd enough to ask the authorities to give a written assurance that he will not be charged a single rupee for the hospitalization (medicines, room and food). The authorities declined and the patient continued to be in ‘home quarantine’. Sadly, he died after a few days.  

The other issues being faced by patients is that while insurance policies have been extended to cover Covid-19, there are teething challenges over claims and payments. In some cases, insurance companies say the claims they have received are not just related to coronavirus but for other ailments as well. Dr Abhay Shukla of Jan Arogya Abhiyan  said, “Government must fix rates or get hospitals to charge as per  Ayushman Bharat rates. Else they have to take over private hospitals like in Ireland and Spain. This is   not a time for profiteering”.

By a notification passed by the state government, the Mira Bhayandar Municipal Corporation (MBMC) has appealed all private hospitals in the twin-city to get impanelled for the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana (MJPJAY) to put a cap on the costs of treatment of Covid-19 and other ailments, the scheme which was earlier restricted for limited beneficiaries has been extended to cover the entire population and private hospitals. An official of MBMC said, “ The  Government of India   should tell the private hospitals to not charge for the coronavirus tests or charge minimal prices for coronavirus treatment like the government hospitals. The Government of India should take   strict actions against those private hospitals who are charging high prices for the treatment and test of Coronavirus.”

From various examples we have seen how private hospitals are looting common people instead of helping them and saving their lives. In many  metro cities  like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, coronavirus treatment is very expensive. Even the behaviour of some doctors is very rude. Before admitting patients, they demand to pay Rs.1 lakh and after that doctors instruct the patient’s family to shift the patient to another hospital. This kind of situation is making the worst for poor people who do not have money to pay for coronavirus treatment. If the government does not take any action to control this situation, people might start r iots which will make India’s situation the worst.

On the one side, the ‘looting of money’ is going on uninterrupted in the medical sector. On the other side, unmindful of the spread of Covid-19 and the increasing deaths, the ruling BJP is really busy with the ‘looting of MLAs’ in Rajasthan, replicating the same ‘looting-style’ of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Modi is really ‘taking a good care’ of the “PM Care fund” that is not transparent or accountable. Moreover, he is now in the ‘Selling-Mood’ – i.e. selling all profit-yielding government agencies/structures to the rich Corporate Companies who happen to be his great supporters. Another irony is that he speaks of ‘Self-reliance’ at times, but he is also inviting foreign companies to India to establish themselves. We can be sure that the ‘foreigners will make in India and loot in India’.

Cicero of the Roman Empire wrote in 43 BC: “(1) The poor work and work (2) The rich  exploit the poor (3) The soldier protects both (4) The taxpayer pays for all three (5) The banker robs all four (6) The lawyer misleads all five (7) The doctor bills all six (8) The goons scare all seven (9) The politician lives happily on account of all eight.” It is time for us to wake up and be alert. Can we allow ourselves to be LOOTED all the time? We need to find an answer. 

(Published on 27th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 31)