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COVID-19: Firms fleecing us on medical oxygen, say Karnataka private hospitals

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Oxygen manufacturers are asking hospitals to cough up higher prices for medical oxygen, and are threatening to stop supply if they do not pay the increased rates, according to the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA).

The association has written to the Drugs Controller of the state Drugs Control Department on October 14 complaining about abnormal and exorbitant increase in prices of oxygen supplied to hospitals by manufacturers, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While there is no shortage of oxygen supply now, as was the case in August, the issue now is with the pricing.

The letter also stated that the prices quoted by the manufacturers is higher than that fixed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority.

“This is to bring to your notice that M/s Praxair/Linde have increased the prices for supply of liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders to hospitals. The existing price is Rs 16 per cubic metre plus Rs 5 freight charges and 12 per cent taxes, which adds up to Rs 23.52.The revised price is Rs 16 plus Rs 5 plus, an extra Rs 15, and 12 per cent tax, which adds up to Rs 40.32,” the letter signed by Dr R Ravindra, president of PHANA, reads.

The letter cites a gazette notification by the Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, dated September 25, which has capped the price of liquid medical oxygen at Rs 15.22 per cubic metre and that of oxygen inhalation medicinal gas in cylinder at Rs 25.71 per cubic metre. 

No shortage of oxygen as of now, says doctor

The notification states that state governments will be required to fix the transport charges under the Disaster Management Act.

“Although the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, as per the gazette, has capped the prices of oxygen, hospitals in Bengaluru are being forced to pay the exorbitantly revised prices with immediate effect and are being threatened that supply of oxygen to the hospital will be stopped,” the letter points out.

With the increase in the price of oxygen and the fixed rates by the government for different types of wards, it is very difficult for private hospitals to sustain and this will affect care of Covid patients, the association stated.

“At present, the consumption of oxygen has gone up drastically and any disruption in supply will adversely affect patient treatment,” the letter said.

“There is no shortage of oxygen as of now. But manufacturers are citing transportation costs as one of the reasons for the price hike,” Dr Ravindra told TNIE.

In a letter to a hospital in Bengaluru, Praxair/Linde (merged companies) said they have made overnight changes in their manufacturing as well as transportation facilities to ensure that there is no community spread of Covid-19.

“Not only are we incurring higher distribution cost, but we are also being negatively impacted due to increased production costs. All our manufacturing facilities are functioning round-the-clock to fulfil the needs of the medical fraternity,” it reads.

Highlighting distribution challenges, the company stated that liquid medical oxygen is being sourced from Northern and Western parts (Murbad, Dahej, Taloja, Bhilai, Haldia, etc) of India to meet the demand in the south.

“The running cost has increased multiple fold in the last 5 months… Logistic infrastructure is under tremendous stress. Additional overhead cost has increased manifold… we are finding extreme difficulty to continue supplies without immediate revision of rates”, the company reasoned.

TNIE tried to reach out to a manufacturing company for comment, but there was no immediate response.

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