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Bills bypass bypass packages
- Minister demands transparency, calls private hospitals for talks

Rohit Sharma, 52, recently underwent a bypass surgery at a prestigious private hospital. Once the surgery was planned, the hospital offered him four packages to choose from. Sharma opted for a 12-day stay for Rs 1.35 lakh. But at the end of the 12th day, he was asked to pay over Rs 2 lakh for his treatment. The bill was a body-blow.

Concerned at the growing instances of patients in private hospitals being forced to cough up more than the package amount, the government has decided to step in. “There seems to be a definite lack of transparency in the packages on offer,” says health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee adds that a meeting involving directors of top private hospitals will soon be convened, where the ‘package puzzle’ will be discussed. “Our message will be that packages offered by the hospital before a surgery and the final bill should tally and not shoot up, as it often does,” clarified Chatterjee.

Private hospitals structure their bypass packages broadly around cabin rents, pathology and diagnostics. Other details, like medicines, food, operation theatre charges and consumables like saline bottles, cotton and equipment, are also taken into account. The bypass packages in six top hospitals vary between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2.62 lakh. But, allege patients, the bills often push past the package.

While hospital authorities dismiss such talk, the state health department is convinced “there is something wrong”. The packages, for one, vary wildly from one hospital to the other. While at B.M. Birla, a bypass surgery could come for Rs 2,62,500, the package at Rabindranath Tagore International Institute for Cardiac Sciences reads a more modest Rs 1.75. The bypass bill at state-run hospitals is pegged at around Rs 55,000.

The state health department recently conducted an inquiry to find out “where the common man was being fleeced”. It was, apparently, found that a private hospital actually spends anything between Rs 35,000 and Rs 45,000 for a complete bypass surgery, which includes medicines and in-house pathological tests.

Minister Mishra has taken up the matter with Sajal Dutta, president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India. “I have asked the Association (the conglomerate of nine leading hospitals) to join us in a workshop to discuss the issue. The package system has definitely emerged as a cause for concern,” said Mishra.

Dutta admitted to a “lack of transparency” in some smaller private healthcare centres but claimed that hospitals affiliated to the Association have a clear agenda about the package system. “We explain everything to the patient,” he added.

Samir Baran Kar is not convinced. The Gol Park resident was advised a Rs 2.5-lakh package at a private hospital, but picked a Rs 1.5-lakh deal, instead. “My bills shot up to Rs 2.6 lakh. The hospital said this was for extra consumables (medicines, blood …). But I later realised that was the hospital’s way of getting back at me for refusing its proposed package. This is most unfair on patients who have to plan their medical expenses.”

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