When treatment turns deadlier than the disease

Many complain of fleecing by private hospitals despite knowing that they can’t save patient

A 71-year-old from Bangarupalem mandal was rushed to a popular private hospital at Vellore in Tamil Nadu, a few kilometres away from Chittoor, as he developed respiratory problems at a government COVID care centre a few days after he tested positive in the first week of May. After a week-long treatment, his body was handed over to the family members but not before they cleared a bill of ₹15 lakh.

A 53-year-old government official near Chittoor spent ₹2 lakh at a private COVID hospital on the outskirts of Chittoor early this month but found the treatment ‘very poor’. His family shifted him to a private hospital in Tirupati where he was charged ₹7 lakh for five days which was reduced to ₹5 lakh following the ‘recommendation’ of an MLA. As the hospital was reluctant to treat him further, the patient was shifted to a corporate hospital on the outskirts of Tirupati. The family had reportedly spent another ₹3 lakh for two days of treatment here, which included Remdesivir injections, but he could not be saved.

The two families are closely related to each other. Recalling their ordeal, a family member of the elderly victim says: “We can fight COVID-19, but not the exploitation. We have no proof regarding the medical bills. At Vellore, instead of a bill we were given a slip of paper with a scribbled signature each time we paid the money. We were not allowed to pay the bills online. It was a big struggle to pool wads of currency. The final bill given to us was for only 25% of the amount collected from us.”

The younger sister of the 53-year-old victim remarks: “We were absolutely helpless. Oral instructions were given to pay money with a threat that non-payment would hold up the treatment, leaving us with no choice. The fact that the bill was reduced by ₹2 lakh on the word of an MLA shows that it was highly inflated. Despite knowing well that they can’t save a patient, the hospitals are going to the extremes in exploiting the helpless.”

Lost parents

In another case, an ophthalmologist from the district had lost his mother to COVID-19 a couple of months ago even after spending ₹12 lakh for her treatment in a corporate hospital in Chennai. Last week, his 75-year-old father tested positive for the virus and complained of a mild trouble in breathing. He walked into a government COVID-19 hospital in Tirupati assuring his son with a smile, but on May 20 he was let out lifeless.

“After the bad experience in the corporate hospital, I got him admitted to a government hospital which also did not help. In order to get a bed, I had to almost fall at the feet of an influential political leader. Fear of government hospitals is forcing patients to approach the corporate ones and vice-versa. Whom to blame?” he laments.

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