Profiteering from the Pandemic

By Ashwin Tombat
19 September 2020 12:21 IST


On Friday, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that the cap on rates in private hospitals for Covid-19 treatment would be revised. The rate caps were Rs12,000 per day for a general ward, Rs15,000 per day for a twin-sharing room, Rs18,000 per day for a private room and Rs25,000 per day for the ICU. This excludes consulting charges for specialists or intensivists, special drugs or equipment or any other procedures or surgeries.

According to a media report, many citizens said that they would have to die at home if they couldn’t get a bed in a government hospital, because they would not be able to afford a private clinic. They’re right. The rate cap for a bed in an isolation ward is around the same or higher than the rate being charged for a double room by most five-star beach resorts in Goa this weekend!  

Compare this with the rate caps in a major metropolis like Mumbai; Rs4,000 for isolation ward, Rs 7,500 for ICU without ventilator and Rs9,000 for ICU with ventilator. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has described these rates as too low, however, and challenged the Maharashtra government to run private hospitals at these prices.

But Bangalore has a far more creative solution. The rates may seem similar to Goa at Rs10,000 for a ward (10 per cent extra for twin-sharing room and 25 per cent extra for a private room), Rs15,000 for a high-dependency ward, Rs20,000 for ICU without ventilator and Rs25,000 for ICU with ventilator… But there is a big difference.

In private hospitals notified for Covid-19 treatment, 50 per cent of beds have to be reserved for patients referred by public authorities. In these cases, the Karnataka government pays Rs5,200 for isolation ward, Rs7,000 for high-dependency ward, Rs8,500 for ICU without ventilator and Rs10,000 for ICU with ventilator. Effectively, the Bangalore’s fully private patients subsidise its government-referred patients in private hospitals.

Why can’t this model be adopted by the Goa government?

Even as Goa has become the worst-hit state in the country with 17,392 infections per million population, the government has failed to extend any price protections to its people. CM Pramod Sawant actually defended the hospital rate caps on Thursday. He said: “We have decided these rates in consultation with medical professionals and private hospitals. We have to keep in mind that it is affordable for them.”

The government can keep in mind what is ‘affordable’ for private hospitals, but not what is affordable for ordinary patients…?

Earlier, the government had refused to cap the rates. Health Minister Vishwajit Rane had said that those going to private hospitals were doing so from personal choice, since similar treatment was available at government-run facilities for free.

But times have changed. Goa is undergoing a massive Covid-19 outbreak, and most government hospitals are full. Patients are sleeping on the floor and even in the corridors. The government has converted the new South Goa district hospital into a Covid care hospital. It opens this weekend. But beds may still fall short…

This same lack of concern for citizens is seen in Covid-19 testing in Goa. State epidemiologist Dr Utkarsh Betodkar has told the media that around 70 per cent of tests performed each day in Goa are Antigen tests.

The Antigen test is an unreliable test. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) found that while it correctly identifies those who are Covid-positive, it accurately detects Covid-negative individuals only between 51 per cent to 84 per cent of the time.

This means that if the Antigen test says you are negative, there is a very high possibility that you could actually be Covid-positive. That’s why the ICMR recommends that people who get a negative result from an antigen test should do a confirmatory RT-PCR test if they show symptoms. But what about those who are not symptomatic? They will go on to spread the infection to their family and friends!

An RT-PCR Covid test at a private laboratory in Goa costs Rs4,500. An Antigen test costs Rs2,000. This is highway robbery.

An RT-PCR test at a private laboratory in Mumbai costs Rs2,000 if the sample is collected at home, or Rs1,200 if the sample is taken at the laboratory. Earlier, these rates were fixed by the government at Rs2,500 and Rs1,900 respectively.

The Haryana government has fixed the rate of an RT-PCR Covid test at Rs2,400, and an Antigen test at Rs650. The Rajasthan government has capped the price of an RT-PCR test in any private hospital or laboratory in the state at Rs2,200. This week, the Jharkhand government reduced the price cap for an RT-PCR test from Rs2,400 to Rs1,500.

Why are we in Goa being asked to pay double or more?

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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