In India, medical complications mainly pertaining to the heart are on the rise. Cardiovascular ailments affect 30 million people annually, and close to two million people die of heart attacks every year. What is even more agonising is that common people can not afford important medical equipments.
Many hospitals loot the common people on the name of medicines and other medical equipments, taking advantage of the health of their family members. They do not give them the equipments on the MRP and charge them double amount. When 38-year-old lawyer Birender Sangwan came to know about it, he decided to fight against the system to bring justice to the common man.
Looting the common people
Back in 2014, Birender visited a hospital in Faridabad to meet his friend’s brother who had undergone a heart surgery. Out of sheer curiosity, he decided to inspect the box of coronary stent, a tube that placed in an artery supplying the heart. But there was no MRP printed on the box.
On asking his friend, he came to know that the stent was bought at a whopping Rs 1,26,000. The hospital did not even provide a bill for it, and he couldn’t get price details anywhere.
A coronary stent is a tube-shaped device fixed in the arteries to keep them open so as to ensure proper supply of blood to the heart. More than five lakh stents of various categories are used in India annually, most of them being imported from other countries. With cardiovascular diseases on the rise, the number of angioplasties being performed has doubled in the country in the past five years.
Birender the Messiah
This deeply affected Birender, to the extent that he filed an application under Right To Information to check how many hospitals in Delhi performed angioplasty using the stent and found that the pricing of the device varied from one hospital to another.
Hence, he filed a complaint against those hospitals to the Health Ministry of India. The RTI reply bewildered him. He came to know that cardiac stents were exempted from customs duty. On top of that, stents were notified as drugs but not covered under any price control mechanism in India because they were not included in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
Birender was baffled to discover that the same stent was priced Rs 23,000 under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS), whereas the private hospitals were charging hefty sums.
This enormous gap in pricing inspired him to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2015 to get the device within the ambit of NLEM. But no heed was paid to this litigation for months. But he kept pursuing the matter.
In October 2016, he got a copy from the government that said that stents had been already put in the essential medicines list in July that year. The Health and Family Welfare Ministry had issued a notification on July 19, 2016 to include coronary stents in NLEM with immediate effect. But that was all. The next necessary step was still not taken, of the Department of Pharmaceuticals, which comes under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, notifying stents as a Schedule-I drug, without which it wouldn’t be eligible for price control.
Birender 1 : Government 0
Finally, On December 7, 2016, the Delhi High Court asked the Centre on its stand on fixing the MRP of coronary stents. Then on December 22, the court gave the NDA government a deadline of March 1, 2017 to fix the MRP of coronary stents.
The government subsequently included stents in the first Schedule of the Drug Prices Control Order in December 2016 and on February 14, 2017, the government finally capped the prices of stents. The price of bare metal stents was capped at Rs 7,260 and drug-eluting stents at Rs 29,600.
“The major roadblock was dealing with widespread lobbying and influence of private hospitals and doctors. Various pharmaceutical companies and departments who were parties to the foul play also caused occasional problems,” says Birender.
The impression of lawyers is often that of people who are trying to make money off every helpless client they come across. But it is people like Birender who restore the faith of the common man in their noble profession, and also in the judicial system of the country.
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