Chennai: As the number of people hospitalised due to Covid rise, many find that they have to settle a big chunk of the bill out of their own pockets despite having health insurance.
Policyholders are again caught in the crossfire between hospitals and insurers over the treatment of consumables like personal protection equipment (PPE) kits resulting in only 45% to 80% of hospital bills being recoverable by customers.
For 81-year-old diabetic and hip fracture patient K Saraswathi, who was treated for Covid-19 for eight days got only Rs 56,500 reimbursed of the total Rs 1.18 lakh bill from third-party administrator Raksha. Among other things that were disallowed included Rs 17,600 for PPE claims. While insurers cite General Insurance Council (GIC) norms, their argument may not hold water as IRDA has not approved any norms.
“How can a hospital treat a patient without PPEs?” asked an official at the Insurance Ombudsman office which is snowed under with complaints for short-settlement. “We used to get a few cases last year, now we have 88 pending cases, 70% to 80% of which are short settlements,” the official said.
For some insurers, the exclusions amount to a third of hospital bills. Liberty General officials said around 35% of the bill does not fall under the ambit of insurance coverage. Its VP and national claims manager for accident & health, Amol Sawai said, “On the industry level, the average Covid claim severity is Rs 1,40,000, the settlement severity is about Rs 95,000 of the claimed amount. We have seen almost 20% of the total bill is attributed to PPE costs.” India’s largest health insurer Star Health settles nearly 80% to 90% of claims under cashless settlement within two hours of receiving claims. S Prakash, MD of Star Health said, “One doctor who takes a round in the same PPE kit, cannot charge for each of ten patients he visits. The controversy is not in the reimbursement for PPEs, but in the number of PPEs covered. One cannot claim for ten PPEs per day. For ICUs, we allow a higher number of PPE kits compared to the ward,” he said.
According to the GIC officials, the referral rate for PPE kits is Rs 1,200 per day for moderate sickness and Rs 2,000 per day for severe sickness.
“We also see a spike in claims made for CT scans per person. We allow maximum two CT scans per patient,” he added. Officials at the GI Council blamed the hospitals for this situation. “Why are no directions given to hospitals on billing?” asks a council official. He points out an instance where a Tamil Nadu hospital charged Rs 14,000 for medicines, Rs 55,000 for diagnostics and Rs 50,000 for PPE besides room rent. When the insurer raised a red flag, the bill was halved to Rs 1.5 lakh.
“Is it okay for hospitals to loot with such high bills, whose money are we paying? It is the public’s money. If the premium doubles next year, will anyone even think of medical insurance? If we raise our hands and give up covering medical insurance, can anyone force us to provide a cover,” the official asked. The short settlement by insurance companies is resulting in a rise in complaints at the office of Insurance Ombudsman in Chennai.
“Insurers are citing some GI Council norms for claims settlement. Whatever they are saying does not hold water as IRDA has not approved any norms. How can a hospital treat a patient without PPEs?,” an official at the Insurance Ombudsman office said. Hospitals on their part blame the westernization of healthcare where insurance companies call the shots.
“How can an insurance company decide on medication? A Dolo works for some while a Combiflam works for another, both these have a price differential. Now to say I will pay Dolo charges for a Combiflam or vice versa is plain stupidity. We need someone who looks at the bill and the patient and not one size fits all,” a MD and head of infectious diseases in a private hospital said. “The need is a regulator who understands medicine,” he said.