Private doctors in India’s Rajasthan call off two-week strike against right to health bill


Recently, tens of thousands of private doctors in Rajasthan, India, went on strike to protest a bill that guarantees the right to health for the state’s 80 million people. The bill mandates that all public and private hospitals must offer emergency treatment, and the government will reimburse the cost. The doctors claimed that there was no clarity on how and where this money would come from. Private healthcare services came to a standstill, and public hospitals were overwhelmed by patients. However, the state government reached an agreement with the doctors, prompting them to call off the strike.

India spends only 2% of its GDP on public healthcare, which is one of the lowest in the world. Private doctors, clinics, and hospitals receive approximately 80% of the total healthcare spending, and more than 55 million people are pushed back into poverty every year because of catastrophic health expenses, affecting some 17% of households.

The protesting doctors argued that defining an emergency service for which the state would pay was challenging. The bill also posed issues of identifying hospitals that could provide emergency care. The state government excluded private hospitals with fewer than 50 beds and those that had not used government concessions to set up their facilities from the ambit of the bill. According to Dr Sunil Chugh, a senior functionary of an association of doctors, this move would exclude 98% of private hospitals in Rajasthan from the law.

The plight of Surendra Meghwal, a 44-year-old resident of Rajasthan, highlights the yawning gap between promises and reality. He is still paying off medical debt that he incurred in treating his sister-in-law, who died of Covid two years ago at a private hospital in Karauli district. His family had taken the patient to the private facility because there were no beds available in the public hospital.

A study by Radhika Jain of University College, London, showed that private hospitals in India were filing claims for higher-priced and reimbursed services than those actually provided and charging patients for care that should be free under state-run health insurance programmes. Making people trust state-run health facilities will take time, as 75% of insurance claims in the first four years of the Rajasthan programme were from private hospitals.

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