An ex-serviceman got a rude shock yesterday when he was asked to pay for the medical expenses of his wife admitted to Jehangir Hospital. All ex-servicemen and their dependants are entitled to free medical treatment at designated hospitals — Jehangir Hospital is one of these — under the Ex-servicemen’s Contribution Health Scheme (ECHS).
When 43-year-old Binod Kumar Ojha, a former petty officer with the Indian Navy, took up the matter with the hospital officials, they claimed that the ECHS had not cleared the hospital dues amounting to Rs 5.5 crore, forcing them to withdraw the cashless service.
The marketing manager at Jehangir, Sainath Pradhan, said the decision to suspend the cashless service under ECHS was taken as the pending amount was huge.
“The hospital is admitting patients and curing them, but for a price. The step was taken because the pending amount is huge, though we continue to charge as per ECHS rates,” Pradhan said.
Ojha said he learnt that over 10 ex-servicemen had already had to pay their medical bills in the last 45 days and the ECHS should have at least informed the rest about such an important development as it concerned thousands of ex-servicemen.
“I admitted my wife at Jehangir Hospital on Tuesday morning after she complained of swollen limbs. She was admitted to the general ward and was undergoing treatment. On Wednesday, the hospital authorities asked me to pay Rs 10,000 as medical expenses. On enquiring, I came to know about the issue and decided to take action against the injustice,” he said. “Earlier, we could take medical help from Command Hospital, but since the launch of ECHS we have lost that right too. How are retired servicemen supposed to pay such hefty bills?”
RTI activist Anup Awasthi was critical of the government, saying it could afford a costly retirement home for the President but not take care of the health costs of ex-servicemen.
“The President, who is the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, can be given a retirement home and afford to spend crores of rupees on it, but when it comes to the health of ex-servicemen and their relatives, the government doesn’t have money. It’s a shame for the entire country that the people who have served the country have to fight for their basic rights,” Awasthi said.
Colonel A K Pathania from the ECHS said funds had stopped coming from the government in February but things would be back to normal once fresh allotments were made.
“The Finance Ministry had withdrawn money in early February, which led to a financial crisis and that is why we could not clear the dues. As soon as the ministry allocates funds in the Monsoon Session, the dues will be settled,” Pathania said. “As for now, the hospital must inform the patient (about the situation) before admitting him, and even if the ex-servicemen is paying the expenses, he can claim it back later on.”
He said Inlaks and Budhrani Hospital had also withdrawn the cashless service because of non-payment of dues, while Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital had given a deadline of May 10 for dues clearance and warned it would also withdraw the service if the money were not credited to it by that time.
Dr Asha Relwani, medical superintendent of Inlaks and Budhrani Hospital, said that the dues from ECHS neared about one crore."
“Though we are always open for providing our services, ex-servicemen are required to pay according to ECHS rates. We will resume cashless service as soon as the dues are paid,” she said.