The Supreme Court, modifying its order on free coronavirus test at private labs, on Monday said that free testing for Covid-19 shall be available to persons eligible under Ayushman Bharat scheme, and other economically weaker sections of the society.
The apex court insisted that it never intended to make testing free for those who can afford it and asked the government to issue rules to reimburse private labs for free tests.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Ravindra Bhat said the 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 are also eligible for the benefit of free testing and issue appropriate guidelines in the above regard also within a period of one week.
“We 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 (Indian Council of Medical Research) for Covid-19,” said the bench.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, contended that under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, about 10.7 crore poor and vulnerable families, which means approximately 50 crore beneficiaries, are covered under the scheme and they can avail the benefit of free of cost Covid-19 test even in the private labs.
He submitted that beneficiaries under the scheme would get a cashless Covid-19 test in private labs.
The top court noted that the April 8 order 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 — Rs 1,500 for screening and Rs 3,000 for confirmative tests.
“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,” said the court.
The court said the private labs can continue to charge the payment for testing of Covid-19 from persons who are able to pay the testing fee as fixed by ICMR.
The ICMR on Monday had urged the court to withdraw its free coronavirus test order, contending that the interim order passed on April 8, may work to the detriment of the cause the country is fighting.