Private hospitals continue to bill their patients for so-called Covid protectionWhile the Health Ministry has warned of action, private hospitals say they cannot operate with previous rates.
Last week, journalist Kishore Nepal wrote a long facebook status about Norvic International Hospital charging Rs 2,500 under the heading of Covid protection.
He asked whether all private hospitals were levying an extra fee on their patients in the name of Covid-19 and if so under what law.
“If the government has allowed private hospitals to collect the surcharge from patients, what was the reason behind it?” Nepal wrote.
“Fleecing in the name of the pandemic is an inhuman thing. Rs 2,500 is not a small amount for the poor people.”
Nepal isn’t the first patient made to fork out additional money in the name of the pandemic and Norvic isn’t the only hospital billing patients for the so-called Covid protection.
Almost all renowned private hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley have been collecting extra money from their patients since the start of the pandemic.
“Yes, It is true that we have been collecting Rs 2,500 extra from our patients as Covid protection charge,” Rajendra Bahadur Singh, executive director of Norvic, told the Post. “The additional amount was collected for the safety of the people.”
Private hospitals are not only billing their patients for Covid protection charge, they are also forcing patients to pay for safety gear like personal protective equipment.
They have also been charging more than the ceiling fixed by the Health Ministry to the patients infected by the coronavirus. As per the ceiling, private hospitals cannot charge more than Rs 3,500 to normal patients, Rs 7,000 to moderate patients and Rs 15,000 for critical care services.
Many say private hospitals have been taking undue advantage of their patients in the time of the pandemic.
Bishnu Timalsina, deputy general secretary of Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights, said that people were being forced to pay exorbitant prices in private hospitals due to apathy of the authorities concerned.
“I am getting tired of asking the authorities for regulating private health facilities,” Timalsina said. “Unless the government takes action against private hospitals, they will continue to charge extra to their patients.”
But hospitals have their own explanation.
Dr Chakra Raj Pandey, director of Grande International Hospital, says
charging an additional fee to patients is a huge ethical challenge encountered by private hospitals which have been running on high cost these days.
“The cost of running a hospital is quite high compared to the past. For instance, surgical gloves which came for Rs 2 in the past cost Rs 12. The prices of medicines have also become high,” Pandey told the Post. “We are not in a position to provide services at the previous rate. This issue should be ended logically by exploring sustainable financial models.”
According to Pandey, he has been suggesting government officials, including Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal, that the government should take beds of private hospitals and bear their running cost and contribute to their bank loan and staff management.
“We talk a lot about plights of people but never on exploring a financially sustainable model to keep the hospitals running,” Pandey said. “What is lacking is honesty and commitment. There is a situation of overall system collapse.”
Kumar Thapa, senior vice president of Association of Private Health Institution of Nepal said that the association has neither discussed nor decided on charging an additional amount to patients in the name of Covid protection.
“I don’t know what the Norvic International Hospital is doing. Basanta Chaudhary, who is also the president of our association, should not have done so,” said Thapa, also the chairman of Alka Hospital.
He claimed that his hospital had only been charging patients for surgical gloves.
The Health Ministry on Sunday issued a warning to private hospitals telling them not to charge extra money to patients in the name of Covid protection.
“We have decided to start monitoring the private hospital,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “We will take necessary action if hospitals are found charging patients on the pretext of the pandemic.”
Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson at the ministry, said they had received several complaints against several renowned private hospitals who have been charging additional fees to their patients.
“Many patients have sent us their hospital bills as proof. We will start monitoring these hospitals from now on,” he said.
An official at Norvic International Hospital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the government was free to do whatever it wants, but the hospital’s policy to charge Covid protection amount to its patients will not change.