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Court Orders Government To Regulate Private Hospital Bills

Court Orders Government To Regulate Private Hospital Bills

The High Court in Kampala has issued a directive to Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng and the government to establish a cap on medical bills, particularly in private hospitals. This decision comes in response to concerns that many private facilities are overcharging patients, leading to detentions for those unable to settle their medical expenses.

Justice Phillip Odoki, in a landmark ruling on January 16, acknowledged the prevalent practice of private hospitals imposing exorbitant medical bills. He expressed concern that if left unaddressed, this trend would continue to violate the citizens’ right to health.

Emphasizing the duty of the State to ensure access to health services for all Ugandans, Justice Odoki noted that private health facilities constitute over 40 percent of healthcare providers in Uganda. He supported the Health Equity and Policy Initiative’s petition, stating that the government’s failure to regulate private medical facilities allows for the violation of patients’ health rights.

Justice Odoki highlighted the absence of legislation to address this issue, citing the 2007 Private Health Units (Regulations) Bill and the 2019 Patient’s Rights & Responsibilities Bill, which were tabled but not enacted.

The civil society organization argued that the government has a constitutional obligation to regulate private health facilities and protect the public from unconscionable medical levies. The court found evidence supporting claims of varying charges, detainment of patients, and bodies withheld over unpaid medical bills.

In response, the court ordered the Health minister and the Attorney General to enact legislation within two years to standardize medical service pricing, prevent detentions for unpaid bills, and establish penalties for exorbitant charges. The Attorney General is required to report compliance every two years.

While the government cited a previous case on medical fees regulation, the court distinguished the current case as addressing broader concerns about human rights in health. The judge rejected the argument that professional ethics guidelines were sufficient, emphasizing the need for legislative measures.

The court’s decision follows a history of private hospitals charging high fees, particularly during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government was criticized for not intervening when private facilities charged exorbitant amounts for medical care, leading to financial burdens for Ugandans. The court made no cost orders in the public interest case.

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