Even as the public continue to struggle to get beds or ICU facilities in private hospitals, MLAs infected with COVID-19, cutting across party lines including both the ruling and the opposition, have been getting themselves treated at private facilities and sending medical bills to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly seeking reimbursement.
Most of these bills run into several lakhs of rupees, thus adding to the financial burden of the State exchequer mauled by increasing credit and the lockdown. According to sources, at least 20 MLAs, including four ministers have contracted the virus and a vast majority of them were treated at posh private hospitals and they sent their medical bills to the government.
When Revenue Minister RB Udhayakumar was recently asked about this, he downplayed the issue stating that it was normal for legislators to claim medical reimbursement. “It’s an age-old practice and legislators of all parties, including the DMK, the Congress and the AIADMK, have got their medical bills taken care of by the Assembly Department in the past. The bills for COVID-related treatment have been submitted and it is the prerogative of the Department to clear the bills or not,” the Minister told reporters recently. When contacted, a senior revenue official clarified that elected MLAs are legally eligible for medical compensation from the Department. “Most of them prefer private hospitals over the government ones. Usually, these details are not shared in the public domain as medical records and bills submitted by MLAs and Ministers are a private matter,” the official said.
However, there are some classic exceptions to this practice too. For instance, Labour Welfare Minister Nilofar Kafeel preferred home treatment when she got infected with the virus. AIADMK MLA Amman K Arjunan representing Coimbatore South got treated for COVID at the Government ESI hospital at a time when a surge was being reported.
“I got treated at a government hospital for COVID and am perfectly alright. I was treated like any other patient and found that the government staff, doctors and nurses in ESI are dedicated and competent. I will continue to recommend government hospitals that do not fleece patients,” the MLA told DT Next.
Echoing the views of several lower level leaders, north Chennai AIADMK MGR Manram functionary Poonga Nagar Selvam said that top politicians in the past preferred treatment at government hospitals over private health facilities.