Private healthcare institutions in Ludhiana decry delay in the release of pending payments under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme which envisages free treatment for poor people.

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Private Hospital and Nursing Home Association (PHANA) Punjab has protested the time taken by the government to clear the payments under the centrally sponsored scheme. While the payments to hospitals were cleared in five months, the hospitals were to pay their dues to the companies they bought equipment from within 45 days.

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PHANA secretary Dr Divyanshu said, “Governments have included economically stable patients in the scheme for vote bank purposes, leading to these individuals demanding free treatments at empanelled hospitals. For instance, in Punjab, 80% of the population is covered under the scheme. While we do not oppose the inclusion of these beneficiaries, the problem lies in the delayed payments from the government, contrary to the guidelines of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the government. The average turnaround time for payments is five months.”

“According to the new MSME rules, hospitals must clear the payments of MSME firms within 45 days, failing which the unpaid amount will be considered as income, thus increasing the tax burden on hospitals under the 30% tax regime,” he added.

“Despite multiple meetings with the National Health Agency (NHA) and State Health Agency (SHA) authorities, a solution to this issue remains elusive,” the doctor lamented.

He recalled that a few years ago, the hospitals had stopped the Ayushman Bharat services due to delayed and non-payments. “We hoped that the government would have learned from this experience, but the problem persists,” Divyanshu added.

Economically stable patients, covered under the scheme, he claimed, demand the highest quality of treatment, but the fixed package rates did not allow the hospitals to provide premium implants or private rooms.

“There are no guidelines permitting the use of better quality implants or private rooms for these patients, leading to misconceptions that we are withholding these facilities intentionally,” he said.

Divyanshu added, “As the government plans to cover all individuals aged above 70 under the scheme, it is crucial to resolve these problems first. Without clear guidelines, it will be challenging to provide the quality of implants, medicines and private rooms that these patients might demand.”