Now free emergency treatment at Assam's private hospitals.

Published: 04/05/2010

Imagine a heart attack or a road accident victim being wheeled into a private hospital and the family members worrying not about the patient's health but about how will they meet the hospital bills.
In Assam, from now on anyone needing emergency treatment need not bother about the bills. The state government has made it mandatory for all private hospitals to provide free treatment for the first 24 hours.
This benefit is part of the Assam Public Health Bill, 2010, passed by the state assembly Thursday, the first such watershed legislation in the country guaranteeing the right to healthcare without a patient having to look for a government hospital in case of an emergency just because of financial constraints.
'The entire idea of this bill is to ensure quality healthcare facilities and making it easy for people, rich or poor, to avail themselves the best of treatment in the first 24 hours in an emergency situation,' Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told IANS in an interview.
'The persisting inequities and denials in the matter of healthcare in the state was a concern, and hence this bill.... We hear of people afraid to take a patient to a private nursing home in the case of an emergency because of financial reasons. Now this bill makes it mandatory for all concerned to treat free of charge,' the minister added.
'I would put the bill as a revolutionary step towards better healthcare in Assam. The idea for free treatment for the first 24 hours in all private hospitals is a very bold step,' Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) R.C. Deka told IANS over phone from New Delhi.
Not just that, the legislation also makes it mandatory for all new development projects in the state to pass a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) test.
'We know about environmental clearance in the case of a new project, but nobody bothers about the health hazards of such projects, and hence the mandatory HIA clearance provision kept in the bill,' the minister said.
The new legislation has been generally hailed.
'We are going to enforce the legislation in letter and spirit and hope the public sector cooperates with us,' the minister said.
But private hospital owners and shareholders are miffed with the legislation.
'The idea of free treatment for the first 24 hours could prove to be economically unviable for private hospitals,' said G. Buragohain, a private nursing home owner.

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