SC asks Centre to consider reimbursing COVID-19 testing charges in private labs

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This suggestion was made by Justice Ashok Bhushan while hearing a plea urging the government to make COVID-19 testing free across the country.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to consider whether COVID-19 testing could be made free for common people in the country.

A bench headed by Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat asked whether a reimbursement mechanism could be drawn up so that the charges for COVID-19 testing done by private labs could be paid by the government.

The bench was hearing a PIL filed by Advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, which sought a direction to the government to make COVID-19 testing free across the country as Rs.4500 fixed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for testing in private labs is not affordable to common people.

The petitioner pointed out that testing was important as it was the only way to contain the pandemic. The Court observed that private laboratories "should not be allowed to charge high amount for COVID-19 testing".

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said that the testing was a huge task and government alone is not able to do it.

"Almost 15,000 tests are being done by 118 laboratories. This was not sufficient. So private labs had to be roped in for COVID-19 tests. We have involved 47 private laboratory chains. It's a developing situation," he added.

At this point, Justice Bhushan asked whether a reimbursement mechanism could be drawn up. He said, "Don't allow private labs to charge high amount for COVID-19 tests. A mechanism can be created for reimbursement from government for tests."

SG Mehta replied that he will take instructions to check the feasibility of the suggestion.

The petition questioned the March 17 advisory of the ICMR which capped the price for COVID-19 testing in private hospitals or labs at Rs. 4,500. It pointed out that it was difficult for the common citizen to get tested in the government labs and being no alternative in the sight, the people are constrained to pay the capped amount to the private labs for protecting their lives.

It was further submitted that the impending danger of Coronavirus is extremely serious, given the deprived population of the country, and that testing is the only way to contain the pandemic.

It also sought a direction for ensuring that all tests relating to COVID-19 are conducted under National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) or ICMR accredited pathological labs (with inputs from Bar & Bench).

Image Credit: News Minute 

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