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Monday, 1 June 2020

Egypt’s gov’t could move to regulate covid-19 treatment prices at private hospitals

Hospitals, including private-sector operators, will face price controls when treating covid-19 patients. The controls will apply to both medical treatment as well as to lower-level “isolation” services, according to a cabinet statement. The decision comes after some providers had allegedly been “overcharging” patients for services, the statement says. It also follows an increasing number of calls from MPs to regulate pricing at private hospitals.

Prices will be decided within the week: Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly ordered a “specialized committee” to draw up a pricing scheme, which will be made public within days, Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said yesterday (watch, runtime: 8:05), adding that all hospitals will have to abide the controls.

The legal basis: The Consumer Protection Act, which President Abdel Fattah El Sisi ratified in 2018, sets a legal framework through which the government can impose price controls. The state now also has the power to order any hospital to operate under government control in a defined crisis thanks to changes to the Emergency Act passed by the House of Representatives last month.

Only 17% of beds on special covid wards are occupied at the 320 state-run hospitals presently accepting covid patients, Saad told Kol Youm’s Khaled Abu Bakr (watch, runtime: 12:00), while the 20 original state-run treatment facilities are at 85% capacity. Those facilities hit the 17% capacity figure after just 10 days, Saad said, noting that they are only admitting the most severe cases and encouraging patients with mild symptoms to self-isolate and ride out the illness at home in a bid to ensure there is sufficient hospital capacity for those who need it most.

With rising infection numbers, health officials are now allowing the private sector to treat cases, having first limited treatment to a single facility in Matrouh. The Health Ministry then announced a list of 20 state-run isolation and treatment facilities before adding university hospitals to the list, then another 320 state-run facilities. In total, there are 367 state facilities now authorized to treat covid patients. All are now permitted to accept covid cases. The expansion of where covid patients can seek treatment came after officials said earlier in May that the country’s isolation hospitals had reached full capacity, prompting the ministry to look at alternatives such as using hotels to add capacity.

The ministry hasn’t publicly said how many private sector hospitals or beds are available to treat covid patients, but Alameda Healthcare CEO Neeraj Mishra (who oversees facilities including As-Salam International and Dar Al Fouad) told us in April that all private-sector operators had been told to prepare isolation wards.

The price controls are, in concept, the right thing, but regulators will need to strike a careful balance between their inner Nasserist (everything without charge, all the time) and the simple reality that treating very sick covid patients is very expensive — and puts pressure on the hospital P&Ls in other departments thanks to lower revenues and resource drain to focus on covid treatment.

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