The Perfect Enemy | Karnataka: Despite rampant overbilling during Covid, only few complaints being processed
September 25, 2022

Karnataka: Despite rampant overbilling during Covid, only few complaints being processed

Karnataka: Despite rampant overbilling during Covid, only few complaints being processed  Deccan Herald

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During the first and second waves of Covid, many Bengalureans who were admitted to private hospitals had to pay a bomb for private-quota beds. These were the 50 per cent beds private hospitals had reserved for themselves, where the government was not routing patients based on Bengaluru Urban numbers. 

The state government had capped the charges for these beds by a June 2020 order. The patient wasn’t supposed to pay more than Rs 10,000 per day for a general bed, Rs 15,000 for an ICU bed and Rs 25,000 for a ventilator bed. Though many patients talked of being charged a lot more, the Health Department is eventually processing very few complaints. 

The Health Department has set itself a target of closing patient complaints by September-end. But some Bengalureans who had filed complaints in 2020 and 2021 have not even received acknowledgements. Surprisingly, the Bengaluru Urban District Health Officer says the number of complaints from the district so far is just around 50 — an extremely low number, considering how widespread overcharging was. 

Rituraj was charged Rs 58,000 for his mother’s four-hour stay at a private hospital in April 2021. Of this, Rs 40,000 was charged a lump sum as ‘Covid package’. After he reached out, the Health Department responded saying they had sent a notice to the hospital. “I sent them three reminders, and also messaged my details separately to the DHO, but there was no further response. If there is no action, what is the use of the order capping prices?” he asks. 

Yogesh Jain, who had spent Rs 2.8 lakh for his mother’s treatment in April 2020, has not received a response either. The hospitalisation was only for six to seven days in an ICU bed, he says. “The amount was much higher than the ceiling, and they didn’t give us a bill at all for the medicines used. When I spoke to the DHO, he said he will look into the issue. But he did not respond later.” 

As per the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Act, a District Grievance Redressal Committee in each district is supposed to look into the complaints, said Health Commissioner D Randeep. The committees are headed by the district’s deputy commissioner, with the DHO as member-secretary. The usual process is to send a notice to the hospital to refund the patient’s money. Penalties are levied only if the hospital doesn’t respond. 

In Bengaluru Urban, DHO Dr Niranjan B S, who took charge last month, says there have been about 50 complaints, of which 18-20 are pending now. It’s not clear from which sources the DHO’s office had compiled the complaints. “Usually, most cases come to DHOs directly, and get settled when they send notices to hospitals,” he says. 

Randeep says the number of complaints is indeed low. “It could be due to a lack of awareness among people. Or they may not want to complain if the hospital took good care of the patient.” He admits to the delay in processing the complaints. “There are many pending cases in the districts, and I’ve written to all DCs to take action. Each complaint should have been settled in about six months.” 

The Health Department has not compiled state-level data on the complaints and refunds either. Whereas data for illegal charging for government-quota beds (admissions with BU numbers) has been released. “We will compile data on private-quota beds also soon,” Randeep said.