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Ex-servicemen had to pay their medical bills out of pocket

Former military and retired state soldiers are struggling to pay their medical bills despite being on a health care plan.

Recipients were placed under the Contributory Veterans Health Scheme (ECHS) established in 2003. The scheme set up private hospitals and some public hospitals for free treatment. However, in recent years, hospitals have withdrawn from the program. During the COVID-19 pandemic, several beneficiaries were asked to pay for the treatment in advance by the constituted hospitals.

A beneficiary undergoing regular treatment at an orthopedic hospital in Anna Nagar was told last year that the referral letter from the polyclinic on the premises of Island Grounds would not be accepted. Another 64-year-old beneficiary, who had been undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Manapakkam for six years, was told to pay for the procedures when admitted last September. It cost him more than ₹2 lakh. Two of his friends, retired jawans, had surrendered their ECHS cards and opted for a monthly medical allowance of ₹1,000.

Her daughter was told she would have to pay upfront because the hospital was unprotected. The hospital increased the bills by ₹1.70 lakh, but the ECHS would only reimburse half of the amount. “Under the ECHS, all we had to do was get the signature of the officer in charge of the ECHS and the commander of the military hospital and submit the invoices to the constituted hospital,” said she declared.

Retired beneficiaries are unhappy as polyclinics have stopped physical examination of patients citing the pandemic. “For the past two years, I have spent ₹2 lakh. The polyclinic asks us to go online, but old people like us are not comfortable with that,” said one beneficiary.

Jason Peter, a veteran board member of Tamil Nadu Rajya Sainik, wrote to the Chief Minister citing details received under the Right to Information Act from the Ministry of Defence. He said 34 private incorporated hospitals and the government general hospital Rajiv Gandhi had withdrawn from the scheme.

He said that in 2015-2016, while Kerala generated ₹166.12 crore in terms of bills, of which ₹154.98 crore was approved, Tamil Nadu ECHS generated ₹65.75 crore and 56, ₹05 crore was approved. In 2020-21, while in Kerala ₹200.99 crore out of ₹233.69 crore generated was approved, claims in Tamil Nadu at ₹60.4 crore of which ₹50.45 crore was approved.

Mr Peter added that the two states had a similar beneficiary population: Kerala has an ESM population of 1,75,872 and 62,010 widows, while Tamil Nadu had 1,28,077 ESM and 64,925 widows.

He called on the Chief Minister to write to the Union Government “to make appropriate and sufficient timely correction and prevent such aberrations in the future”. He also suggested allocating some portion of corporate social responsibility funds to the treatment of ex-military personnel under the ECHS.