Private hospital bills give poor Covid-19 patients the shiversHospitals are overcharging patients up to three times the rates fixed by the government. Yet no action has been taken.
On May 10, Shiva Narayan Chaudhari, 65, tested positive for Covid-19. Chaudhari, who has been living in a rented room with his family at Nayabazar, Kathmandu, stayed in home isolation in the beginning.
The next day, Chaudhari fainted at around 4 in the evening. His family rushed him to the hospital. But getting a bed even in the general ward was difficult at a time when daily new Covid-19 cases were crossing the 8,000 mark.
“After running from one hospital to another, we finally got one general bed at Om Saibaba Memorial Hospital at Banasthali,” said Radha Thakuri, Chaudari’s daughter-in-law.
“After being treated at the general ward with oxygen support for a week, doctors at the hospital advised arranging an ICU bed as his condition had not improved,” Thakuri told the Post.
Thakuri and his family started searching for another hospital. After three days, they secured a vacant bed at the National Trauma Centre, a government hospital.
When Thakuri contacted Om Saibaba Memorial Hospital to pay the bill, she was in for a shock. The cost of ten days of treatment in a general bed with supplemental oxygen was Rs147, 500, excluding medicines and ambulance charges.
When the Post contacted Om Saibaba Memorial Hospital and inquired about its cost of Covid-19 treatment, the hospital operator said they don’t have ICU beds or ventilators and that they only ran an isolation ward.
“We have isolation beds, which cost Rs10,500 per day, excluding the oxygen charge,” said a hospital worker without mentioning their name.
For people like Thakuri, getting treated at private hospitals means bearing a heavy financial burden, most of it in the form of loans.
“My whole family works in a garments factory. With the latest onslaught of the coronavirus in the country, we all lost our jobs. Managing such a huge amount of money was very difficult for us,” Thakuri told the Post.
To treat Chaudhari, the family borrowed money from their relatives.
“We have run out of money now. Hopefully, we don’t have to pay much fees here at the government hospital,” Thakuri said.
Chaudhari’s story is not an outlier. With the number of coronavirus cases rising steadily across the country, thousands of families are struggling to admit their loved ones at hospitals.
All beds at state-run hospitals treating Covid-19 patients are occupied at the moment. The country reported 8,591 new infections in the last 24 hours, according to a government tally released on Saturday afternoon. The government also confirmed 129 Covid-19-related deaths in the same period.
As of Saturday, the country’s total infections have reached 505,643, of which 115,806 are active cases. The total death toll stands at 6,153.
With beds at public hospitals occupied, the seriously ill have no option but to go to pricey private hospitals.
On May 2, Kathmandu Medical College at Sinamangal published a notice stating that it would be charging Rs10,000 to Rs30,000 per day for the treatment of a Covid-19 patient.
HAMS Hospital at Mandikhatar also published a similar notice, where the price of bed and ‘biosafety charge’ for Covid-19 patients ranged from Rs7,000 to Rs 50,000.
The Ministry of Health and Population has fixed rates for Covid-19 treatment at hospitals—Rs3,500 per day for normal patients, Rs7,000 for moderately ailing patients and Rs15,000 for those needing intensive care.
Though the ministry had expressed its commitment to take action against hospitals that overcharge their patients, no action has been taken so far.
Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry, said private hospitals can charge only up to 50 percent extra, on top of the price fixed by the government for the specified services.
“If the hospital is found charging more than that, anyone can file a complaint with the Health Ministry and action would be taken,” Adhikari told the Post.