The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Centre to identify private hospitals where COVID-19 infected patients could get treatment for free or at a nominal cost.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, hearing the matter via video-conferencing, observed that there are private hospitals which have been given land either free of cost or at nominal rates and they should treat coronavirus infected patients for free.
"You identify all those hospital and find out," the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
"They have been given land either free of cost or at a very nominal rates. These charitable hospitals should treat patients for free," the bench observed and posted the matter for hearing after one week.
Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the top court that this being a policy issue was required to be decided by the government.
Mehta said he would file a response on the issue.
The bench was hearing an application filed in a plea which has sought a direction for regulating the cost of treatment of COVID-19 at private hospitals across the country.
The top court had on April 30 issued notice to the Centre and sought its response on the plea, filed by advocate Sachin Jain, which alleged that private hospitals are "commercially exploiting" patients suffering from coronavirus in this hour of crisis.
The petition has said that the government should mandate private hospitals which are running on public land allotted at concessional rates or running under the category of charitable institutions to at least for the present, treat COVID-19 patients either pro bono publico (for public good) or on no-profit basis.
"The issue requires an urgent consideration of this court as many private hospitals are commercially exploiting the patients suffering from COVID-19 to make a fortune out of their miseries in the hour of national crisis," the plea has alleged.
It has also sought a direction to the Centre to bear the cost of COVID-19 treatment at private hospitals for the poor and vulnerable, who neither have any insurance cover nor have coverage under government schemes like Ayushman Bharat, and also of those who have the coverage but the cost of treatment surpasses their reimbursement.
It has said that given the resource constrains of public health sector in the country, extensive participation of private healthcare sector would be required particularly in dealing with moderate and severe cases of coronavirus that would require hospitalization.
It has said that the Centre, in exercise of powers under the Disaster Management Act, has regulated the cost of tests for COVID-19 in private health sector and on the same analogy, the government can also regulate the cost of treatment in private hospitals to combat the pandemic.