Private doctors in Karnataka are protesting against a proposed bill that will define how private hospitals function and how much they can charge for services. More than 20,000 doctors went on a strike and 6,000 private medical establishments were shut, barring emergency services.
The Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Bill (KPME) 2017, is set to be tabled in the state’s legislative assembly by the Siddaramiah-led Congress government. The bill was delayed due to consistent protests by doctors. On November 3, around 50,000 doctors in private hospitals in Karnataka decided to ‘abstain from duties’ to protest the bill.
Here is a close look at the proposed bill and the opposition to it:
What are the provisions laid out in the proposed bill?
According to the minutes of a meeting of held in May this year, the amendment adds to and edits certain clauses in the existing KPME bill to give it teeth.
The bill proposes that the cost of health services should be fixed and private hospitals barred from charging any amount in excess of these set prices.
It says all private medical establishments have to conform to set standards of infrastructure and staffing prescribed by the state government. Establishments will be required to display a Patient’s Charter — that enumerates rights of patients — prominently. They will also need to display brochures that detail charges of particular treatments and provide patients clear estimates for treatments not covered under fixed rates before treatment starts.
The bill also makes provision for redressal of patients’ grievances. Any patient or healthcare provider can approach Local Inspection Committees in their district with a grievance.
It also lays out penalties for doctors and medical establishments which fail to comply with these standards.
Why are doctors objecting to the bill?
Private medical establishments and doctors have banded together to campaign against the bill. The Indian Medical Association’s Karnataka unit called the bill “draconian”, while the Karnataka Private Doctors association called for a strike.
Private doctors say that the bill will affect the quality of healthcare in the state and argue that the government will be better served by raising the standards in state hospitals.
Senior doctors in the state have been vocal against the bill. Devi Shetty, founder and chairman of Narayana Hrudalaya, called it an attack on the fraternity. “The honour and prestige of the medical fraternity will be affected if the Bill is passed,” Dr Shetty said. He said there were already about six forums for grievance redressal and another was not necessary.
Who proposed the KPME (Amendment) Bill?
Karnataka health minister Ramesh Kumar is the main mover behind the KPME bill. But the strong opposition from the private doctor lobby has divided opinion within the ruling Congress as well.
Despite the protests, on November 8, Kumar reiterated his commitment to the bill and said in a statement: “The proposed Amendment Bill has provisions which seek to balance rights and obligations of patients as well as that of private medical establishments. The medical establishments know a lot while the patients know very little. For addressing this information asymmetry, intervention by the State through appropriate regulations is necessary.”
Who has supported the bill?
The bill has found support from public health activists who argue that it will make private healthcare transparent and accountable, and stop them from cheating patients.
Narsimha Murthy from Slum Janandolana Karnataka, welcomed the bill, telling news site Scroll, “We need some control mechanism that can take action against those who violate patients rights or medical ethics.”