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Rising medical expenses add to financial stress of citizens

Ragashree Gnanesh, whose aged mother needs regular follow-up with a specialist for her recurring health problems, has been finding it increasingly difficult to cope with medical expenses. The salary she gets as a contract employee in a private firm is not keeping pace with the rising medical costs. 

“One visit to the hospital costs me not less than ₹4,500. I have to shell out ₹900 towards the consultation fee alone. Even a few basic investigations and monthly medicine are becoming difficult now,” she said.

“Although I have a small medical insurance, I cannot use it for out-patient department visits. With a substantial increase in the cost of living too, medical expenses are turning out to be a huge burden on us,” she said.

Spiraling costs

According to data from the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), health inflation in urban areas shot up from 9.12% in January, 2022, to 11.64% in March.

Although it marginally reduced to 10.81% in April, the overall combined health inflation rate has seen almost a two-fold rise compared to last year.

C.N. Manjunath, director of the State-run Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, said the rising costs of medical expenses is actually a cascading effect of inflation in all other sectors.

“A sharp surge in fuel, transportation, power and licensing fees to be paid by hospitals is turning out to be costly for the health facilities making it inevitable for them to pass on the additional burden to patients,” he said.

“The costs of many medical equipment including implants and consumables that are imported has shot up significantly with the rupee falling against dollar. Cardiology and radiology investigations and interventions (angiogram, angioplasties and CT scans) have become costlier by over 20% as the prices of iodine based contrast dye used in these procedures have gone up. Besides, the prices of medicines have also been increased by nearly 10%,” Dr. Manjunath said.

30% rise

H.M. Prasanna, president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA), said overall, costs have gone up by 30% both for patients and hospitals.

“The costs of basic drugs and consumables including nitrile gloves and sanitisers have shot up exorbitantly. In fact, these consumables that were in high demand during COVID-19 were available at a lesser price then,” he said.

“A pair of nitrile gloves that we bought at a price of ₹2.5 during COVID-19 now costs ₹4.5. Likewise, the cost of sanitiser has gone up from ₹250 per litre during COVID-19 to ₹500 per litre now,” he said.

Besides, the per annum consent fee based on capital investment for hospitals (whose capital investment is between ₹50 crore and ₹1,000 crore) has been hiked in the range of 33% to 900%.

This is under the Karnataka State Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution (Procedure for Transaction of Business) and the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) (Amendment) Rules, 2021. Salary component of hospital administration has gone up significantly.

“For a small hospital with 80 beds, the consent fee hike is 300%. This has been raised without scientific calculation and we are being charged a percentage of our investments,” he said, justifying higher service charges.

Ravindra R., Medical Director of Suguna Hospital, said  the costs of all maintenance contracts (annual and comprehensive) of  equipment has also been hiked.

“Electricity charges have also gone up. Small and mid-sized hospitals are the worst hit. We are unable to pass on more than 10% to our patients because they may choose to stay away from accessing healthcare,” Dr. Ravindra said.