- The Lok Sabha has passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 on 20th December, 2018, which replaces the Consumer Protection Act, 1986
- Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will be set-up to promote, protect and enforce consumer rights
- The enhanced pecuniary jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection Councils (CPCs) will impact practicing doctors and patients due to increased healthcare expenses
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 was tabled in January 2018 in the last winter session of Parliament. The Bill was passed on 20th December, 2018. This will replace the three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which in spite of being amended thrice, still suffers from deficiencies in many aspects. Importantly, this Bill may affect practicing doctors.
Key Aspects of the Bill
Some of the major aspects of the Bill that may have an impact on practicing doctors are briefly highlighted below:
‘The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 has been passed by the Indian Parliament, which guarantees protection to consumers. However, it could impact practicing doctors due to increased treatment costs, which would lead to higher out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for patients.’
Ambit of the Law
- All services and all modes of transactions fall within the purview of the Bill
- Failure to issue a receipt (if asked by the patient) for fees received by the doctor
- The liability falls on the doctor providing the services to his/her patients
Consumer Protection Councils (CPCs)
- CPCs will be established at the District, State and National levels
- The CPC advisory bodies will promote and protect consumer rights, including that of patients
- The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will prevent unfair practices
Pecuniary Jurisdiction of Commissions
- District: Up to Rs. 1 crore (Rs. 10 million or USD 142,908)
- State: Between Rs. 1 crore and up to Rs. 10 crore (Rs. 100 million or USD 1,429,082)
- National: Above Rs. 10 crore (Rs. 100 million or USD 1,429,082)
Alternate Dispute Redressal Mechanism
- Mediation cells will be attached to the District, State and National Commissions
- If a person does not conform with the orders of the Commissions, he/she may face imprisonment up to 3 years, or a fine not less than – Rs. 25,000 (USD 357) extendable to – Rs. 100,000 (USD 1,429) or both
What Does the Government Say?
With reference to the Bill, the Corporate Affairs Ministry, Government of India, has stated that the objective of the Bill is “to provide for the protection of the interests of the consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ disputes”.
How Could the Bill Affect Practicing Doctors?
Of all the key aspects of the Bill, the pecuniary (money related) jurisdiction of the CPCs at the District, State and National levels could have the biggest impact on practicing doctors. Since the CPCs at the District level will be the most accessible to the patients, the highest number of claims will likely be filed at this level.
Since medical malpractice claims are becoming rampant in recent times, the doctors will need to increase their professional indemnity insurance to at least Rs. 1 crore. Due to this steep increase in the insurance amount, there will be a rise in doctor’s fees and associated treatment costs, which will lead to higher out-of-pocket expenditures for the patients.
How will it affect the Patients? The out-of-pocket expenses for patients already account for an overwhelming 70 percent of the healthcare expenses in India. This staggering amount of out-of-pocket expenditure pushes 7 percent of the Indian population below the poverty line every year. If the healthcare expenses increase even further, it could be disastrous for the patients. This would mean that the goal of providing affordable and quality healthcare for patients may not be accomplished, at least in the near future.
This bill will make the medical doctors to start practicing ‘defensive medicine’ as is being done in western economies like the US where the physicians are at highest risk of being sued, and overtreatment is common. The number of lawsuits against physicians in the USA has been on the rise over the last decade and has had a substantial impact on the behavior of physicians and medical practice. Defensive medicine leads to recommending diagnostic tests or medical treatment that is not necessarily the best option for the patient, but an option that will mainly serves the function to protect the physician against the patient as potential plaintiff. Doctors in India will immediately need to start finding ways to improve the consent forms for procedures and have better documentation of their notes. As the malpractice insurance premiums goes up the overall cost of healthcare in India will increase dramatically over the next five years and the patients will end up bearing the brunt of these increase in the costs.
- The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 – (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QulEsTXTB1fCeguS5sFzW8wUuD_o9h52/view)