Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ECHS Indisposed- lack of funds and infrastructure

ECHS indisposed
Private hospitals await crores in dues
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, December 13
All may not be well with the much-hyped Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), a welfare initiative launched by the Centre for providing comprehensive medicare to veterans and their dependants.

While some new measures are being implemented to streamline the functioning of the ECHS, some issues like large outstanding payments to private hospitals empanelled under the scheme and modifying some procedures for availing treatment need urgent redress.

With outstanding payments mounting, some private hospitals are reluctant to entertain veterans and there have been instances where they have been turned away. Over the past few years, several reputed hospitals across the country have opted out of the scheme over procedural delays and deferred payments.

Among the largest private hospitals in the tricity, Fortis in Mohali, for instance, is reported to have outstanding payments amounting to Rs 30 crore since 2004. Silver Oaks, another private hospital, has outstanding dues of Rs 8.9 crore for the past four years.

Mukut Hospital, Sector 34, is awaiting payments of Rs 4.5 crore for the past two years and-a-half. Bills worth several lakhs each by laboratories and diagnostic centres are still to be cleared.

“The verification process for bills is long and tedious, involving several establishments and hierarchical levels,” Hemendra Jain, the official dealing with ECHS as Silver Oaks, has said.

There are 30 empanelled hospitals, diagnostic centres and laboratories in the tricity and 1,400 across the country. Going by the dues, outstanding payments nationwide may run into hundreds of crores, according to the ex-servicemen’s association.

Some issues also pertain to the functioning of the polyclinics that are directly operated by the ECHS. This includes heavy patient load and inadequate infrastructure.

To cater to a clientele of about 35 lakh, including 11 lakh ex-servicemen and 24 lakh dependants, and to operate 227 polyclinics, along with medical and paramedical staff and medical supplies, the ECHS has a budget of Rs 1,000 crore.

According to a study done by the Indian Ex-Servicemen’s Movement recently, the per capita expenditure under the ECHS is Rs 2,700 compared to Rs 5,100 from the Central Government Health Scheme for civilian retirees.

Sources at Western Command Headquarters claim that ECHS bills of private hospitals are being cleared within two weeks and payments of about Rs 20 lakh are being disbursed every day. A weekly roster has been developed, under which a particular day is devoted to dealing with bills of specific hospitals.

Sources at the headquarters admit that complaints and suggestions from the ECHS clientele keep coming in and various problems at the functional level are being sorted out from time to time.

They have also hinted at some policy changes and overhaul of the ECHS system, with a new managing director assuming charge of the ECHS. Maj-Gen A George has been posted from Chandi Mandir as the new ECHS head on a short notice.

Some measures like automating polyclinics to cut down manual administrative processes and releasing payments to private hospitals online within 10 days are being devised. Universal smart cards, that can be used to avail treatment at any polyclinic instead of only the user’s parent polyclinic, are also being issued.
ECHS indisposed Tribune report