The Supreme Court on Friday sought for the Union government’s response in a PIL seeking a direction to the authorities to bring in a mechanism where COVID-19 patients can receive treatment at medical facilities of their choice.
The bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, MR Shah, and V Ramasubramanian was hearing the PIL who also sought uniform pricing of similar categories of rooms, treatment, et al in private hospitals. The court then directed that a copy of the said petition to be served to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The PIL filed by one Avishek Goenka through this petition has focused that a COVID-19 patient should be able to choose which medical facility to be admitted in, based on his choice and affordability. He contends that as on date, patients are not given this choice. The petitioner also wanted the constitution of a joint expert committee for examining and recommending the best global practices for the treatment of COVID-19 and making its recommendations binding on all states.
Further, the petitioner sought a direction to the Centre to immediately enroll more private hospitals for COVID-19 post-infection treatment. He raised a question of law whether a person who is willing and has means to afford quality healthcare could be forced to go to a government-owned or aided quarantine center or hospital, against his choice denying him a quality of life in the name of a pandemic. He contended that the absence of policies or guidelines for availing facilities in private hospitals for COVID-19 treatment was violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, for being manifestly arbitrary. Also, he stated that the government should direct the insurance companies to immediately settle, full claims, which were raised as per government-specified rates.
On the other hand, the petitioner while arguing that private hospitals across the country were charging exorbitant prices for the treatment of coronavirus patients, sought that the government should fix prices charged by private quarantine facilities. They added that the arbitrary process of admission to hospitals was also biased towards well-off patients.
However, on Thursday, the Centre informed the top court that it had no authority to direct private and charitable hospitals in the country to provide free treatment to coronavirus patients.
Earlier, in the last month, the apex court had directed the Centre to identify private hospitals where coronavirus patients could be treated for free or at a minimum cost.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the apex court bench comprising of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy asked the private hospitals whether they were ready to provide treatment to coronavirus patients at the charges that have been prescribed under the government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme. The scheme is meant to provide health cover to the poor and vulnerable sections of society. However, the bench clarified that it was only referring to the private hospitals, which have been given land at concessional rates, to treat a certain number of Covid-19 patients.