'Testing vultures': Netizens accuse Mumbai's Hiranandani Hospital of overcharging for COVID-19 tests
Photo: IANS

Amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, an increasing number of people have been testing positive in India. As of Friday evening,over 13,800 positive cases have been recorded in India.

A recent debate, regarding the pricing of the COVID-19 test had led to the Supreme Court making it free for the poorer sections of society. The apex court had initially decreed that both private labs and hospitals as well as their government counterparts should make the tests free. This however did not go down well with many.

For private hositals, while concessions are encouraged, prices have been capped at Rs. 4,500 for the test. Many however have taken to social media recently, alleging that they are being overcharged.

"Hiranandani Hospital, the testing vultures recently exposed for exploiting patients is still at it," wrote an irate Twitter user on Thursday, sharing the image of a bill.

Now, it must be mentioned that the test price mentioned in the bill is indeed 4,500. However, there is a host of other charges that netizens don't appear to agree with.

This is not the first post of its kind. On April 11, The Week published an article based on the experiences of one dialysis patient, Swapnil Kate. In a series of tweets, he had narrated his experience.

Swapnil, who goes regularly for dialysis at an outlet that he calls "very good", with 'brilliant' doctors was asked to get a COVID-19 test done after a person at the centre tested positive.

"One of the testing centre for COVID-19 was Hiranandani Hospital Powai Mumbai. Patients though since SC has ordered that private labs should do it for free, hospital can do it for free. But Hiranandani hospital asked for 6525 Rs for a single test," he narrated, sharing an image of the bill.

Here too, the test price mentioned in the bill is indeed 4,500. However the hospital adds on a host of other charges, some of which Swapnil alleges, do not make sense.

"1000 Rs out of 6525 Rs are for the Doctor's consultation. Every patient of that dialysis centre has their own Doctor's consultation. So they said please wave off these charges of 1000 Rs. Surprisingly the Doctor was not even present to consult," he noted in one tweet.

He also countered The Week's report, which quoted the Hospital's media representative as saying that the doctor's consultation charges had been reversed after he protested.

"The Hospital Authority is now lying that they tried to wave off my charges. Had it been the case I would have tested there itself. But they said pay the full fees else leave," he added in another tweet.

The incident had caused severe outrage on social media, even as some people defended the Hospital's decision, pointing out that people could always go to government hospitals to get their tests done.

The public outcry however appears to have done absolutely nothing to deter the hospital in question from its pricing strategy, even a week later.

But even netizens cry foul, business individuals have shown a distinct lack of apathy. This ongoing discussion recently roped in Biocon's Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.

She has spoken out in the past, suggesting that the Supreme Court's initial decision to make tests free was problematic.

"There are many free tests available from Govt n charitable orgs," she had reminded one Twitter user after being roped into the discussion.

When Swapnil spoke about the increased cost of testing, Shaw replied saying, "That’s not my problem".

We have to agree, that it is indeed not Shaw's problem. As she told another Twitter user, "I don’t run any commercial diagnostic lab - it’s about understanding simple business economics. We need to ramp up tests for public good - public healthcare is government’s responsibility not of private labs".

Nonetheless, a slightly less caustic approach, on the part of both the hospital as well as those chiming in online might have gone a long way in this time of concern.

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