Supreme Court Pushes for Standardized Medical Treatment Rates

The Supreme Court criticizes the government's failure to enforce standard medical treatment rates, emphasizing citizens' right to affordable healthcare.

The Supreme Court of India recently took a stern stance against the glaring disparities in medical treatment costs between government and private healthcare facilities. Highlighting the fundamental right of Indian citizens to healthcare, the Court emphasized the need for the Central government to address this issue promptly. The case stemmed from a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Veterans Forum for Transparency in Public Life, seeking the enforcement of the 14-year-old Clinical Establishment Rules, which mandate the notification of standardized rates for various medical treatments and procedures.

During the hearing, the Court expressed dismay over the failure of the Central government to implement these rules effectively. It criticized the lack of response from state governments despite repeated communications from the Centre on the matter. The Court underscored that affordable healthcare is a basic right and called upon the Union health secretary to convene a meeting with state health secretaries to ensure the prompt notification of standard rates within a month.

The PIL highlights the importance of transparent billing practices and the need for hospitals to adhere to fair pricing standards. Rule 9 of the Clinical Establishment Rules, 2012, requires all registered medical facilities to prominently display their service charges in local vernacular and English. Moreover, the pricing of medical services should fall within the range determined by the central government in consultation with state governments.

The Supreme Court's intervention comes at a crucial time when the cost of healthcare has become a significant concern for the general public. Disparities in medical expenses often lead to financial burden and inequitable access to healthcare services. By urging the Centre to enforce standardized rates, the Court aims to ensure that medical treatment remains affordable and accessible to all sections of society.

In response to the Court's directive, the General Insurance Council (GIC) has expressed its support for initiatives that promote affordable healthcare. The recently launched "Cashless Everywhere" initiative aims to streamline the insurance claims process and minimize friction for customers. Tapan Singhel, Chairman of the GIC, emphasized the importance of charging appropriate costs to customers while offering quality healthcare services.

However, challenges remain in achieving uniformity in medical treatment rates and ensuring accountability in the healthcare sector. The absence of a regulator for hospitals poses a significant obstacle to standardization and quality assurance. The Department of Financial Services (DFS) has called for collaboration between the National Health Authority (NHA), insurers, and DFS to explore the possibility of establishing a health regulator.

The Supreme Court's intervention serves as a crucial step towards ensuring affordable and equitable healthcare for all citizens. By addressing the issue of disparate medical treatment costs and advocating for standardized rates, the Court reaffirms its commitment to upholding the fundamental right to healthcare. Collaborative efforts between the government, healthcare providers, and regulatory bodies are essential to achieve this goal and foster a healthcare system that prioritizes the well-being of the people.