The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A lakh and more to pull out teeth
- Clinic bill sends telecom giant staggering

Rupees one lakh, sixteen thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven — the cost of extracting a few teeth at a private medical centre in Salt Lake.

This is the bill amount that BSNL has recently been confronted with. And the public-sector major is, understandably, finding it hard to swallow.

One of BSNL’s Calcutta-based employees has presented it with a Rs 1.16 lakh medical bill after his son went to a private hospital (Suraksha) to have a few teeth extracted.

This single medical bill has shaken up the company enough to call for a review of the whole BSNL medical reimbursement scheme, directing senior officials in every corner of the country to take a closer look at the empanelled hospitals and the treatment rates applicable there.

Suraksha, however, distanced itself from the intra-BSNL circular. “That the patient’s relatives were happy with our treatment and BSNL paid the entire amount almost immediately indicate the veracity of the bill,” said Suraksha chief executive officer Somnath Chatterjee.

But one of the 10 physicians involved in the case admitted that private hospitals “often make patients undergo unnecessary investigations”.

“I myself was surprised at the bill amount but it would be unwise to comment on it, as I don’t know what happened in the ICU,” he added.

Patients are to blame as well for the “inflated” bills, he felt. “I think private hospitals hike it up when they find a patient covered by an institution, as he/she is unlikely to challenge the bill amount because the money is being paid by someone else,” he said.

Chatterjee, however, said no such thing was done at Suraksha. “The patient, an epileptic, developed other complications and had to be shifted to the ICU,” he recounted, explaining the amount charged, and adding that the hospital management was “relieved” at the safe discharge of the patient.

“It was a touch-and-go affair, because of the patient’s medical history, and the confidence BSNL has in us is reflected in the number of BSNL medical reimbursement scheme-covered patients (seven) we had at the beginning of this week,” said Chatterjee.

But a few weeks after the bill reached the company’s accounts department, a BSNL circular was pushed through. “It is imperative that a thorough analysis be made… regarding empanelment of hospitals and the rates applicable there,” it said.

Behind the strongly-worded circular — unprecedented in BSNL history — is another unstated reason, say BSNL officials. The rules, determining the subject of medical cover, provide a list of 30-odd hospitals (both private and government-run) where BSNL staff can have their bills reimbursed.

But almost no one from the city office goes to any of the government-run hospitals, admit officials. “The situation is very different in other states,” said a senior BSNL official, adding that even privately-managed hospitals elsewhere were generally cheaper than those in Calcutta.

“There is a very strong feeling in Delhi that the amount of medical expenses being incurred by BSNL has risen sharply because of such inflated bills,” an official said, referring to the absurd Suraksha tab.

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