A special audit of 17 private hospitals in Maharashtra’s Thane city has found that they overcharged coronavirus patients Rs 1.82 crore, despite the government’s cap on treatment costs, PTI reported on Monday.

The audit team, formed by Thane Municipal Commissioner Dr Vipin Sharma after complaints about overcharging last month, examined 4,106 hospital bills from July 10 to August 21. The team found 1,362 bills to be inflated.

The civic body then asked the hospitals to return the excess amount that they had collected from patients. The municipal corporation has so far accepted refunds worth Rs 15.27 lakh.

Thane’s municipal commissioner, however, said that the hospitals that have come under the audit team’s scanner will be allowed to function as there is a huge pressure on the healthcare infrastructure because of the coronavirus crisis. “We have instructed the hospitals to refund the money to patients, which is more important at this point,” Sharma told The Indian Express.

An unidentified official at Thane’s Metropol hospital, one of the facilities audited by civic body, denied overcharging patients. “We only charged [patients] as per our rates,” the official was quotes as saying by the newspaper. Titan Hospital Administrator Dr Shahrjan Singh also denied that the patients were given inflated bills. “We are not overcharging patients, we have given our accounts to TMC [Thane Municipal Corporation] auditor for clarification,” he said.

Last month, the Thane Municipal Corporation had suspended the licence of a private hospital and cancelled its coronavirus facility-status for overcharging patients, according to PTI.

The Maharashtra government had in May fixed the cost of coronavirus treatment at private hospitals. The government had directed private hospitals to not charge patients in isolation wards more than Rs 4,000 per day. The treatment costs for patients in intensive care units and on ventilators were capped at Rs 7,500 and Rs 9,000 per day, respectively.

Thane city has reported 1,14,765 coronavirus cases and over 3,000 deaths so far. Maharashtra has a tally of 6,82,383 cases the maximum in India. The state has recorded more than 22,000 deaths.

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