Tuesday, 7 February, 2023

Exorbitant Hospital Fees

Parmeshwar Devkota

SOCIAL media sites have now become viable platforms to express one’s feelings and fury in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused medical emergency of unprecedented proportions. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are filled with humorous comments and irate posts describing people’s plight and predicament. They are catchy and touchy.
Recently, I came across a post like this: ‘If I go to public hospital for the treatment of COVID-19, I will lose my life. If I go to private hospital for the same, I may lose my house’. This sarcastic remark reflects the harsh reality facing the infected lot these days. If one knows about the treatment costs of serious COVID-19 patients charged by some private hospitals in Kathmandu, this comment’s thrust becomes apparent.
During the first wave of COVID-19, the private hospitals refused to admit the COVID-19 patients, citing that they had no personal protective gears and necessary resources. There were no specific regulations to guide them during the pandemic. As the second wave of COVID-19 has gripped the entire country, private hospitals have started to exploit the situation to make a fast buck. Some private hospitals have created luxury rooms and others have made super luxury provisions for the COVID-19 patients. They have made public the rates of beds designed for the treatment of coronavirus patients. The wide-ranging rates of these cabin beds send the chill down the spine of anyone.
Some hospitals charge up to Rs. 50,000 or above per day. For example, the Kathmandu Medical College Public Limited, a moderate hospital, has made the COVID-19 treatment rate public recently. Its single bed rate for COVID-19 patients starts from Rs. 20,000 while the COVID-19 cabin deluxe costs Rs. 25, 000 and cabin super deluxe Rs. 30, 000 per day.
The COVID-19 contagion suffocates patients in no time and may kill them immediately. It is not a chronic disease like asthma or haemorrhage, which demands a long-term treatment. Therefore, a patient cannot enjoy luxury of a hospital. The hospital charge may choke a patient before visiting it. S/he may have to sell his/her house or land to pay the treatment cost.
The expensive treatment costs of private hospitals stir two questions. First, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is not recommending any expensive medicines except paracetamol, a few antibiotics and oxygen. But why is it so expensive? And, what sort of facilities they provide to patients with exorbitant rates?
Second, if a private hospital charges such a hefty amount from a patient, how much does it pay to its staff? Some staff of a private hospital, on condition of anonymity, have disclosed that many private hospitals have been exploiting their employees to the hilt. Nursing and paramedical staffs are paid only Rs. 12,000 a month whereas a consultant doctor gets over Rs. 600, 000 monthly, and the rest of the money goes to the accounts of the shareholders. The junior staffs have been always underpaid, but they cannot file their complaints to the concerned authorities for fear of losing their jobs.
In order to get rid of these entrenched anomalies, a functional system needs to be put in place. An effective monitoring is necessary to implement the reward and punishment provision, which will promote medical ethics and good business practices in the country.