Friday, 3 March 2017

private healthcare segment more transparent and regulate arbitrary billing.

In a first of its kind initiative in India, the West Bengal government on Friday passed the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017 — aimed at making the private healthcare segment more transparent and regulate arbitrary billing.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — who holds the health portfolio — thinks it will become a model for the rest of the country.

"This Bill aims at bringing transparency, ending harassment of patients and taking steps to stop medical negligence," she said while presenting the Bill in the Assembly.

In case, the private hospitals and nursing homes fail to adhere to the new Bill, they may risk losing their licenses.

According to the Bill, which got drafted after a year-long survey, licenses can be revoked in case a medical institution refuses to provide preliminary medical aid to victims of a road accident, sudden calamities, rape and acid attack notwithstanding their financial condition. Also, no person can be denied life-saving medical treatment irrespective of one's financial condition. However, the medical institution can later recover the charges.

As many as 24 conditions, resulting in a cancellation of licenses, has been listed in the Bill.

Besides, hospitals have been mandated to release the dead body of patients even if the next of the kin is not able to settle the outstanding dues. However, the hospital can recover dues later.

Private hospitals and nursing homes will also risk paying a compensation of up to Rs 10 lakh for negligence on its part if it results in the patient's death.

One of the most important aspects of the Bill is its dictate over pricing in the medical institutions. The Bill notes, "Every clinical establishment shall strictly follow the fixed rates and charges including package rates for investigation, bed charges, operation theatre procedures, intensive care, ventilation, implants, consultation and similar tests and procedures, and any additional treatment or procedure shall not attract additional charges". Repetitive laboratory tests are strictly discouraged.

However, the government will dictate the percentage which can be allowed in case the treatment exceeds the estimated cost.

"Some hospitals are overcharging patients, making exaggerated bills. The greed is crossing all limits. When the limits of patience are broken, steps have to be taken", Banerjee said during Bill's presentation.

Banerjee, via the Bill, has also asked hospitals having more than 100 beds to set up fair price medicine shops and diagnostic centres.

Interestingly, the Bill has mandated all private hospitals, which has been set up on government land or enjoys other facility, to compulsorily provide fee treatment to 20 per cent outdoor patients and 10 per cent indoor patients as part of their corporate social responsibility.

The government is going to set up a regulatory commission, which has the power to cancel licenses and impose a penalty of up to Rs 50 lakh, headed by either a high court Judge or chief secretary of the state. The commission will regulate and monitor the enforcement of the conditions listed in the Bill.

The hospital sector in the state welcomed the move.

Rupak Barua, Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AMRI Hospitals, which once earned the ire of the state government in a fire incident, said, "The Bill will help make the sector more organised and structured, and restore people's confidence in the private hospitals."

An official in the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India said that the move to tighten the vigil on private hospitals may not go smooth for the first six months of implementation but in the long run, it will be beneficial for the sector.

However, industry officials are wary that as the Bill gives too much power to public as far as emergency treatment is concerned, a section of the public might be tempted to misuse provisions in the Bill.

"I believe the commission will take into account such facts and possibilities of misuse when monitoring the situation," an industry official, wishing not to be named said.

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