Apex Court holds that Fundamental Right to Health includes Affordable Treatment- shows concern and asks for capping of bills of Covid-19 patients by private hospitals.

The Apex Court bench consisting of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah on December 18, 2020 in SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.7 OF 2020 [RE: THE PROPER TREATMENT OF COVID 19 PATIENTS etc.] has categorically held that Fundamental Right to Health guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution includes affordable treatment.

The Court realised the gravity of the present situation arisen from Covid-19 pandemic affecting the entire world and observed thus:

“Due to unprecedented Pandemic, everybody in the world is suffering, one way or the other. It is a world war against COVID-19. Therefore, there shall be Government Public Partnership to avoid world war against COVID-19.”

The Court further reminded the State that it is it’s bounden duty to provide affordable treatment and provide more hospitals & better equipped medical facilities for those affected by this pandemic. The Court showed concern at the mounting medical cost which is unaffordable for most of the sections of the society. The Court also beckoned the State/Local Administration to make provision for making the medical treatment affordable for the common man. The Court also asked the State to impose capping on the medical bills of the affected people under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act. The Court observed in the said order: “Right to health is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to health includes affordable treatment. Therefore, it is the duty upon the State to make provisions for affordable treatment and more and more provisions in the hospitals to be run by the State and/or local administration are made. It cannot be disputed that for whatever reasons the treatment has become costlier and costlier and it is not affordable to the common people at all. Even if one survives from COVID-19, many times financially and economically he is finished. Therefore, either more or more provisions are to be made by the State Government and the local administration or there shall be cap on the fees charged by the private hospitals, which can be in exercise of the powers under the Disaster Management Act.”

It is commendable that the Apex Court has understood the financial hardship of the affected common man and has asked the State for redressal by providing ‘ affordable treatment’ to the common man by resorting to the Disaster Management Act. However, instead of asking the State to make efforts for the needful, the Court should have issued distinct & well defined, mandatory/ binding directions in unequivocal terms to the State to put a definite capping on the bill for medical expenses of the Covid-19 patients and should have worked out an acceptable formula for the same within a short timeframe. It is pertinent that the Apex Court has very wide powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to grant ” Complete & Substantial Justice”. There could not have been a better and opportune time for the Apex Court to grant ‘ complete & substantial Justice’ by immediately capping the bill towards medical expenses for Covid-19 patients for the benefit of the common man. The Apex Court has several times in the past invoked Article 142 to decide the cases and to do the “complete justice”. The present circumstances warrant that the Apex Court should resort to Article 142 and decide the issue of capping of Medical Expenses or in the alternative direct the State to immediately issue specific guidelines for the much needed & much awaited capping of the medical bills.

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May 2021