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Against exploitation

Mamta Banerjee's mission to put the Healthcare redressal machanism in a fair space might be a Game-changing move.

Against exploitation

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is on a mission against private hospitals and nursing homes that are fleecing patients. Last week, she met with representatives of private hospitals and nursing homes located in and around Kolkata in a bid to redress frequent complaints of inflated bills, forced admission in ICUs and negligence in treatment, among others. The government is expected to push legislation for setting up the West Bengal Health Regulatory Commission. Reports indicate that this new body would monitor complaints of inflated billing, performance and transparency of private establishments.

Using data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, a Brookings report has shown that merely 15% of Indians have some form of health insurance. With rising health costs, the lack of insurance cover can condemn households to incur ruinous expenditure, which in turn drive them into a state of chronic poverty. It is a well-established fact that the poor bear extremely high out-of-pocket expenses (OOP) on healthcare. For the uninitiated, OOP refers to the share of expenses in the absence of subsidy or insurance. Extensive studies have also shown that on balance, private hospitals or nursing homes provide better quality compared to their state-owned counterparts, even though they may force patients to incur unnecessary costs. In India, the lack of a sustainable and well-funded public health system has opened up avenues for private establishments to take advantage of ordinary citizens in connivance with doctors, drug manufacturers, medical devices suppliers and, often, with the Central and state administration.

There is nothing wrong with earning a profit, but there can be no defence of such ugly practices. The rot of corruption has seeped into the private healthcare system. "Lack of government spending on healthcare, huge gap in the doctor-patient ratio, fewer opportunities for post-graduate medical education, attractive target-oriented pay packages offered to doctors by private hospitals, nursing homes and clinics and drugs-and-devices marketing kickbacks given to hospitals and physicians feed the viruses to the disease," says Nantoo Banerjee in a recent column for this newspaper.

West Bengal delivers far better standards of public healthcare than the national average, although a lot of problems remain unaddressed. The mushrooming of private hospitals and nursing homes (many of them unregistered) does indicate the State's public healthcare system suffers from systemic problems. Nonetheless, the Chief Minister's push against the ruthless exploitation of ordinary citizens by private establishments is most welcome. In a bid to better regulate private bodies and improve the state of public healthcare, her government will also need serious assistance from the Centre.

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