india bihar covid black fungus
Dr D.N.Singh, eye specialist, checks the eye of a patient infected with Black Fungus, at Bihar eye bank hospital in Ranchi on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: The Bihar government has begun acting against private health facilities who charge COVID-19 patients more than the amount fixed by the health department. So far, the government has registered cases against four private hospitals, while 12 others are under investigation.

The health department had allowed 91 private hospitals in Patna to treat COVID-19 patients after a sudden surge in coronavirus cases in the state during the second wave when most of the government hospitals faced acute shortage of beds and health infrastructures. To help the people in crisis, the concerned department even fixed the cost of treatment for these hospitals — Rs15,000 per day for non-National Accredited Board of Hospitals (NABH) hospitals in Patna and Rs18,000 per day for NABH hospitals.

However, several patients were charged much more than the government-approved amount inviting action from the government. “We found that some empanelled hospitals were charging patients up to Rs50,000 per day,” Patna district magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh said.

“In some cases, the hospitals charged patients Rs100,000 in the first couple of days and then hurriedly released them on the ground that the government was not supplying oxygen cylinders to them,” the district magistrate informed the local media.

He said in as many as five cases, the local administration had helped the patients or their relatives get refund of excess amount collected by the private hospitals.

Another government official said inquiries were still underway against several other private hospitals accused of forcibly collecting exorbitant amounts of money for treating patients. The government has received such complaints against at least 31 private hospitals whose acts are currently being investigated. Many hospitals handed out handwritten bills on plain paper instead of official receipts to escape action by the authorities.

Costly medical tests

One of the hospitals even prescribed costly medical tests to a patient either daily or every second day. They included liver function test, renal function test, D-Dimer (to check serious blood clot), lactate dehydrogenase test (to check signs of damage to body tissues), interleukin-6 (check for chronic inflammatory disorders) and C-reactive protein test (to check level of C-reactive protein produced by liver in the blood).

A private hospital in Darbhanga district collected treatment charges from a patient even after his death. Dilip Ajit Singh was admitted to a prominent private hospital on May 21 after his condition deteriorated from COVID-19 infections. He died on May 29 but the hospital’s bill included an expenditure towards his medicines on May 30, an official said. According to him, the patient was charged Rs230,000 which was an excess of 118,000. The probe committee has now recommended a recovery of this excess amount.

Meanwhile, surging cases of mucormycosis or black fungus has become an issue of serious concern in Bihar. On Sunday, five more patients died from black fungus in Patna, taking the toll to 45 in the state so far. All the five died at the state-run Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) located in Patna.

City hospitals have run short of both beds and medicines, making their battle for life more critical. Currently around 350 patients are admitted to various hospitals in Patna, who instantly need anti-fungal injections.

“I admitted my father two days ago at the IGIMS hoping the medicines will be available there but he is waiting for medicines since his admission,” said Karu Singh. “In this way the patients will collapse. The government should do something urgently to save the patients,” he appealed. Another attendant said her father was discharged from the hospital even without completing the full medicine course.

Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said the government had made an allotment of 1,700 vials of black fungus injections but they have not reached Patna. “We hope the medicine stocks will reach here in a couple of days,” the minister said.