While the JD (S) and the BJP accuse the Congress of being anti-people, the CM has accused the Opposition of “opportunistic politics”.

As doctors protests continue KPME Bill turns into a political slugfest in KarnatakaPTI
news Politics Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 18:40

With out-patient departments shut in private hospitals across Karnataka and doctors camped outside the Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi, the proposed amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act 2007 have turned into a hot button issue in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

As neither the Karnataka Health Minister nor the protesting doctors have shown willingness to back down on the issue, a pitched political battle is growing among all the state parties. The ruling Congress and opposition parties are slinging allegations of being “anti-people” and “opportunistic” against each other.

At issue in the amendments are clauses proposing a cap on prices of various medical procedures, provisions to jail erring doctors and a district grievance committee to oversee complaints against hospitals. Doctors have also objected to the exclusion of government hospitals under the ambit of the act. Both the BJP and the JD (S) have dived into the issue on the side of protesting doctors, who claim that the bill is draconian and an overreach by the government, especially considering the poor state of affairs in government hospitals.

BJP State President BS Yeddyurappa, for instance, has promised to scrap all amendments to the KPME Act if the BJP is voted to power.“I assure private doctors that we will scrap the amendments within 24 hours of the BJP coming to power, even if this government rides roughshod over imposing the amendments. So I request the doctors to go back to work and serve patients and wait for another three months,” Yeddyurappa reportedly said.

Hopping onto the bandwagon, JD (S) President HD Kumaraswamy has called the Bill unscientific.

“What was the purpose of this ridiculous amendment? The amendments are most unscientific and are hurting people more than making it better,” Kumaraswamy said.

Health Minister Ramesh Kumar, however, has asserted that since private hospitals receive payouts from taxpayer money in the form of various public medical insurance and reimbursement schemes, the government had a right to regulate their functioning.

“It is true that the government depends on private hospitals for secondary and tertiary treatment. Hence, we have come up with schemes, where we have empanelled private hospitals. They partner with the government and also harness reimbursements from schemes like Vajpayee Arogyashree, Swasthya Bhima Yojana, and Jyoti Sanjeevini. Even a man living on the footpath pays tax for products. I have to give these medical establishments the money we have got from thousands of people like that. We are the guardians of public money. So, should there not be regulation when public money is involed?” the Minister told the Assembly on Thursday.

As for the accusation of bringing in anti-people laws, Ramesh Kumar said it would be illogical for the Congress to go against the people just before an election.

“Do you think we (Congress) do not have enough sense? Elections are coming up and we want our party to win. Do you think we will bring in anti-people laws? I did not become a minister to resign when a hurdle was put before me. I was elected to perform a certain duty and I am not going to be cowed by anything,” he added.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah too has hit out at the Opposition, even as he’s given signs of being agreeable to toning down the proposed amendments.

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Siddaramaiah accused Yeddyurappa of standing against needy patients, and appealed to the striking doctors to not “fall prey to opportunistic politics”.

“The amendments are in public interest. However, we are also willing to address the concerns of doctors & hospitals,” Siddaramaiah added in another tweet.

He also argued that the doctors’ protests are premature, since the government has not yet tabled the Bill in the Legislature, and has also stated that it is willing to discuss the issue with all stakeholders.

As the politicking over the amendments continues, observers argue that the real issues around the Bill are getting sidetracked.

Political analyst Sandeep Shastri, tells TNM, “Given the fact that this issue has come up before the elections, every political party would want to make the best of the situation. Even the agitating medicos know that this is the best opportunity to get any concessions. There are reports that the government is planning to dilute the bill. Every political party is obviously going to want to be the one to tell the protestors that we are the ones who can solve your problem.”

He argues that policy-making in this manner undermines the policies that are sought to be put into place. “I am not too sure if this is the right way policy making should proceed, where you succumb to pressures from different lobbies and are looking at gathering votes for the next election. At the end of the day, policy making gets caught in this vortex of the politics of opposition and the politics of support. The real issue gets sidetracked and what gets highlighted is the grand stand that parties take to win political support,” Shastri adds.


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