Supreme Court today modifies it earlier order for free testing of COVID-19 saying its free only for economically weaker sections including those who are enrolled under schemes like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat passed the orders on two on applications, one is filed by a Senior Orthopaedic surgeon seeking to modify Court’s order dated April 8 in which Supreme Court allowed free testing in private labs for COVID-19. Second, application has been filed by Bijon Kumar Mishra seeking impleadment and direction to ensure the treatment of COVID-19 infected patients free of cost in all hospitals.
Supreme Court clarified that order dated 08.04.2020 intended to make testing in private Labs of COVID-19 free for economically weaker sections of the society who were unable to afford the payment of testing fee as fixed by ICMR for COVID-19. It further clarify that the order never intended to make testing free for those who can afford the payment of testing fee fixed by the ICMR for COVID-19.
Applicant, Dr.Kaushal Kant Mishra had submitted that if Government does not provide immediate reimbursement to the private Laboratories, there is a real risk that Laboratories may stop testing for COVID-19, thus posing a direct and inevitable risk to the health of persons across India through unknown transmission and contraction of the disease. Directions were sought in the application to allow private labs to carry out COVID-19 testing as per the rates stipulated in the ICMR Advisory dated 17.03.2020 but allowing the tests to be free for the EWS categories with immediate reimbursement by the Government. Also directions for setting up testing labs in all Municipalities and Panchayat areas were sought.
In hearing today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for Centre said that we have limited resources. We have not availed the outer limits. Fight against the disease may go on for two more months. People have to be tested only if the doctor certifies. We need to see what is actual number of beneficiaries. We have 139 Government labs where irrespective of economic status, people can get tested. We are seeing a serious problem and end of the problem is unknown. We have to prioritise resources. Solicitor General further continued to say that all Ayushman Bharat Scheme holders get free testing.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for several laboratories stated that ICMR has fixed Rs. 4500/- on a moderate side to cover expenses of Labs for conducting COVID-19 test.
The Petition contended that present pandemic numbers in India are gradually increasing, and are likely to see severe spikes in the coming weeks. This is the point at which testing capacities must be at their maximum so that Governmental efforts to contain its spread can be suitably supplemented.
“We make it clear that the benefit of free testing by a person can be availed only when he or she is covered under any scheme like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana. We are also of the view that looking to the plight of persons belonging to economically weaker sections of the society, the Government may consider as to whether any other categories of persons belonging to economically weaker sections of the society can be extended benefit of free testing of COVID-19,” said Supreme Court.
Court passed following directions in the case:-
(i) Free testing for COVID-19 shall be available to persons eligible under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana as already implemented by the Government of India, and any other category of economically weaker sections of the society as notified by the Government for free testing for COVID-19, hereinafter.
(ii) The Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare may consider as to whether any other categories of the weaker sections of the society e.g. workers belonging to low income groups in the informal sectors, beneficiaries of Direct Benefit Transfer, etc. apart from those covered under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana are also eligible for the benefit of free testing and issue appropriate guidelines in the above regard also within a period of one week.
(iii) The private Labs can continue to charge the payment for testing of COVID-19 from persons who are able to make payment of testing fee as fixed by ICMR.
(iv) The Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare may issue necessary guidelines for reimbursement of cost of free testing of COVID-19 undertaken by private Labs and necessary mechanism to defray expenses and reimbursement to the private Labs.
(v) Central Government to give appropriate publicity to the above, and its guidelines to ensure coverage to all those eligible.
-India Legal Bureau