Draconian or humanitarian? Karnataka govt tables bill to regulate private medical institutions

The bill, if passed, empowers the state government to fix prices for various medical services in private hospitals.
Draconian or humanitarian? Karnataka govt tables bill to regulate private medical institutions
Draconian or humanitarian? Karnataka govt tables bill to regulate private medical institutions
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The Karnataka government is all set to amend the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Act, 2007 which will empower the state government to fix the rates charged by private hospitals and penalise those flouting it. 

Private practitioners are however crying foul, saying that the bill, if passed, is draconian. Doctors, in private practice, took out a protest March in Bengaluru on Friday to protest the bill.  

The Private Medical Establishments Act was first passed in 2007. The act made it mandatory for private practitioners to register themselves, which was intended to check quackery. The act also prescribed minimum standards and facilities of health care. 

Once the amended bill is passed in the assembly, it would mean that the state government gets the prerogative to fix prices for various medical services in private hospitals. If the hospitals are seen to be not complying by the fixed rate, they can be penalised. The provision to levy fine of up to Rs 5 lakh or even imprisonment has been recommended in the amended bill. The new provisions also bars private hospitals from seeking advance payment from patients during emergency cases. 

However, after the bill was tabled in the assembly earlier this week, doctors practicing in private hospitals from across the state raised objection to it, especially to the fact that government hospitals were not brought under the purview of the act. An 11-member team of  Association of Healthcare Providers (AHPI) met Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in Bengaluru on Thursday to apprise him of their concerns. 

Calling the amended bill a "draconian" law, Dr  Bharati Rajshekhar, Vice President of Karnataka Primate Medical Establishments Association said, "As far as the fixing of the prices is concerned that cannot be done, since each disease and each medicine is different. Each consultation is different. I want to ask the government one question--did you fix the price for lawyers and engineers? Then why just doctors? We (private hospitals) are providing the best treatment the government is not able to provide its people. Today, patients in the rural areas walk into the private hospitals with a card and get good quality treatment. Why then, has the government brought in such a draconian law? They should bring an act, but one that is rational. "

Calling the act thoughtless, Dr Madan Gaikwad, President of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) argues that the amended bill is nothing but regressive in nature.

"The government is trying to bring a divide. If we don't recover the treatment costs, how will we treat the patients?" Dr Madan told TNM.

Chairman of Narayan Health City, Dr Devi Shetty argued for a joint solution saying, "Unless the medical community comes together, nothing can be done. This is not the last law that is coming to hurt us, every month there will be some or the other law that comes to hurt us. We should work out a situation in which every one is happy--the doctors, the patients and the government.”

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Dr Devi Shetty argued that the provision for penalising doctors will lead to them being scared to treat patients. 

However, shooting down the objections of the private doctors, a number of organisations are approaching all the MLAs, appealing them to pass the bill at the earliest. Organisations, including Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali, Alternative Law Forum, Swaraj Abhiyan and Karnataka Jana Shakti has urged the government not to bow down to "private hospital lobbies" and go head with passing the bill in its current form. 

They insist that the decision of the government to exclude government hospitals from the purview of the bill is right, since penalising government hospitals and shutting them down for non-performance would only be "anti-people."

Vinay Sreenivasa of the Alternative  Law Forum said, "I don't understand why the private doctors are protesting. For one, the bill is to regulate medical establishments and it's not about the doctors. The bill has many progressive features like a patients' rights charter and provision to fix charges for medical services. What is the need to oppose this?"

Vinay said that there must be regulation to make private healthcare sector accessible to everyone. He said, “The government will fix the rates only after consulting a committee that has members from private hospitals in it. Then what is the need for this protest at all?" 

Commenting on the private doctor's demand of bringing government hospitals under the purview of the bill, Dr Akhila Vasan of Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali said, "Issues in government hospitals are raised in the assembly, where accountability is sought and the defaulters are punished. But what about private ones? Women's uterus were removed in private hospitals in Kalaburagi and Haveri etc and what happened to the case?”

Dr Akhila believes that the amended bill is in fact balanced. "There is a patients' right charter and other clauses including that hospitals cannot charge advance money during emergency cases and that they cannot demand money to relieve the dead body to the deceased patient's family. The bill, in that sense, is  humanitarian in nature.”

On the government fixing the price for medical services, Dr Akhila said that the government is not set to decide the prices arbitrarily. "A sub-committee will be formed and only through scientific methods, will the prices be set. Then what is the issue?"

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