Court orders govt to regulate Covid-19 hospital bills

Thursday July 08 2021
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A health worker attends to a Covid-19 patient in an Intensive Care Unit at Mulago in June 2021. PHOTO/FILE

By Anthony Wesaka
By Juliet Nalwooga

The High Court in Kampala has issued orders, compelling government to regulate the skyrocketing medical fees currently charged for treating and managing Covid-19 patients.

This followed a consent agreement between government representatives and Mr Moses Mulumba, the Executive Director of a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)- that had petitioned court over the exorbitant medical fees.

“By consent, this application is therefore determined on the following terms; an order is hereby issued against the respondents to intervene by making regulations on fees chargeable by hospitals on management and treatment of persons suffering from Covid-19,” ruled Justice Phillip Odoki.

“Secondly, an order is issued compelling the second respondent (Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council) to make recommendations to the ministry of health on reasonable fees for persons seeking and accessing Covid-19 treatment from hospitals. Each party to bear its own costs,” he further ruled.

Lawyers representing the petitioners had wanted court to issue timelines to government for effecting its orders but Justice Odoki declined, arguing that since there is good will from government to sort out this fees mess, there was no need.

The judge added that in case the government does not comply with his orders, ‘‘then the petitioners can always come to court for enforcement.’’

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Background

This case was filed about two weeks ago as Mr Mulumba and CEHURD sought court intervention over high medical bills that private hospitals were charging Covid-19 patients.

Following the recent second wave of Covid-19, several private hospitals around Kampala city are charging exorbitant medical fees of between Shs3m to Shs10m per day in cases of Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The same hospitals are also charging between Shs1m and Shs2.5m for moderately infected patients, per day. Critics have previously described the fares as ‘‘largely unbearable to many Ugandans, given the per capita income of $777 (Shs2.7m).’’

Some hospitals had reached an extent of detaining dead bodies of Covid-19 patients until the pending medical bills left behind are cleared.

Other hospitals conditioned treatment of Covid-19 patients with demands for collateral security such as car log books and land titles.

In his affidavit to support the Covid-19 petition, Mr Mulumba had contended that government is mandated by law to provide for the wellbeing and general safety of Ugandans, including guarding them against any form of exorbitance and manipulation in access to social services.

“Unless this Honourable court weighs in and compels the respondents to intervene and regulate chargeable rates for management and treatment of Covid-19, Ugandans will undoubtedly continue to lose lives at the quest for huge profits by the hospitals,” Mr Mulumba argued.

Shortly after the consent-court ruling, Mr Mulumba expressed his joy, saying it’s a victory for Ugandans who are currently battling the second wave of Covid-19.

“This is a huge win for Ugandans. The issue is now for us to make sure that we transform the court order into something that is going to be benefiting Ugandans and I believe for the very first time, the court has intervened in national response to Covid-19 and this is commendable,” he said.

The court ruling comes at a time when government is engaging the proprietors of private hospitals to have the high fees reduced.

Earlier this week, while appearing before MPs, proprietors of private health facilities defended the high medical bills for treating Covid-19 patients, arguing that ‘‘a lot goes into treating Covid-19 patients.’’

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