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“Good! We appreciate the stand; we completely appreciate this stand!": Kerala HC Appreciates State Government’s Measures For Covid Treatment

“Good! We appreciate the stand; we completely appreciate this stand!

A Division Bench comprising of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Dr Kauser Edappagath, on Monday, 10 May 2021, in a special sitting convened by Kerala High Court to discuss measures to rationalise COVID-19 treatment tariffs across private hospitals, lauded the Government of Kerala for its latest order detailing tariffs for various components of Covid-19 treatment in private hospitals.

At the hearing today, the State Attorney informed the Court that 50% of beds in government and private hospitals, ESIC hospitals, and medical colleges were reserved for Covid treatment. 

The order notified that rates per day in General Wards of National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers-accredited hospitals (NABH hospitals) and non-NABH hospital rates would be fixed at Rs 2910 and 2645 respectively as the State Attorney submitted. 

The rates, applicable to persons who were not covered by the government's Karunya Scheme (KASP) or government-sponsorship, would operate in nursing homes and private hospitals, the order specifies. The rate would be inclusive of oxygen, medicine and drugs, nursing and boarding charges etc. High end investigations such as CT, HRCT etc. would be excluded. 

The rates of PPE kits, medications and such other tests would be governed by the Maximum Retail Price or any other notification or order regulating the same as and when published. 

The State Attorney emphasized that rates of RT-PCR tests would be as charged in a previous Government Order capping rate at Rs 500. As per the new order, District Medical Officers and authorities under the Kerala Clinical Establishments Act, 2018 and Rules would operate as grievance redressal officers to adjudicate and investigate cases of exorbitant rates being fixed, the State Attorney informed the Court.

The Court observed that it could be allowed to operate for the next two weeks and then the Court would take stock of compliance/whether changes would be necessary. 

In its judgment closing the PIL, the Court stated, "We have examined the Government Order very closely. We are more than pleased with the Government's Order...We find these rates to be extremely reasonable." The Court emphasized that the rates charged on the excluded expenses could be as per actuals. In the course of the judgment, the Court appreciated the Government for bringing Covid Treatment under the Kerala Clinical Establishments Act.

At the previous hearing the bench had orally proposed whether 50% of the beds in non-empanelled private hospitals could be taken by the State Government, on the lines of the model followed in Andhra Pradesh. 

The Kerala Government had previously notified that 50% beds in non-empanelled private hospitals would have to be dedicated for Covid-19 treatment. In hospitals designated by the government as Covid hospitals (empanelled hospitals), 50% beds are already under the control of the government for Covid.

Expressing reservation as to whether the non-empanelled hospitals were setting aside 50% beds for Covid treatment, the Court directed the State Attorney to find out. Justice Ramachandran pointed out,"50% of vacancies in empanelled hospitals are virtually unregulated - and 50% of vacancies the government has earmarked is also unregulated in private hospitals as of now. There is also another 50% in un-empanelled hospitals for which there is absolutely no rates fixed. In other words, 50% vacancies in private hospitals are completely unregulated even today".

In an additional submission, the State Attorney said that the government would be setting-up an authority at the district level and with an appellate authority to decide on infractions of these rates. The orders of the appellate authority would be amenable to judicial review under Article 226, he stated. Lauding these measures, Justice Devan Ramachandran said, "Good! We appreciate the stand; we completely appreciate this stand!"

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