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Scan on cheap medicare chits

The government has ordered a joint health department-police probe into the sale of ‘monthly income certificates’ in state-run hospitals.

More than a month after Metro blew the lid off the racket at two of central Calcutta’s most-frequented hospitals — Medical College and Hospital, on College Street, and Nilratan Sirkar (NRS) Medical College and Hospital at Sealdah — senior health department officers said a crackdown on touts was planned.

“We have decided to seek the help of Calcutta Police to identify the crooks,” director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti said on Tuesday. “Our officers at the medical colleges concerned have been asked to provide all logistical help to the police,” he added.

Deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan confirmed that health department officers had contacted the police. “We are conducting our own probe,” he added. A senior Intelligence Branch official said the state police wing, too, was keeping tabs.

“We are maintaining a close watch on the MLAs and civic representatives who are known to issue the certificates vouching for monthly incomes of people they may not know,” he added.

The racket, officers said, followed a state government decision to levy a charge on a certain percentage of beds at all state-run hospitals and raise the quantum of fees for almost all diagnostic services, including basic facilities like X-ray and CT scan.

A senior state health department official said: “We just wanted to make state-run hospitals a little less loss-making. It was an honest attempt to lower the subsidies in the health sector.”

Simultaneously, charges on hospital beds would be waived for the poor with a monthly income of less than Rs 2,000. They would have to pay a much smaller amount for diagnostic services. All that would be needed was a certificate from a “people’s representative” — MLA or councillor or panchayat member.

But, as things have turned out, the monthly income certificate has become a tool for the unscrupulous to dodge the charges at state-run hospitals.

Senior physicians at both Medical College and NRS said they would often find a central Calcutta MLA vouching for the poverty of a resident of Basanti. “Leaders of all political parties having a base in central Calcutta issue the certificates, which are presented to the hospital,” an Medical College and Hospital departmental head said.

An independent probe revealed that blank certificates signed by prominent MLAs were selling for anything between Rs 40 and Rs 150, depending on the patient’s gullibility.

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