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Private Covid-19 tests free only for poor: Supreme Court amends its order

The Supreme Court has amended its verdict delivered last week that forced private laboratories to offer free Covid-19 testing to everyone. On Monday, the two-judge bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat ordered that only people who could not afford Rs 4,500 for the test should be tested free by private laboratories.

In the first instance, the court said people eligible under the Ayushman Bharat scheme wouldn’t have to pay for it. The judges also asked the Centre to notify other categories of economically weaker sections who could be tested without a charge.

“The government…. may consider as to whether any other categories of 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 tAyushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aroogya 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,” the court said.

In either cases, the private laboratories may not have to bear the financial burden of the free testing. It allowed the government to come out with guidelines to reimburse the expenditure incurred by private labs on free tests.

On April 8, the judges had ordered free tests on a petition filed by a lawyer Shashank Deo Sudhi, who had underlined that people were forced to turn to private laboratories because government hospitals were packed to capacity.

The judges had then agreed with this argument and delivered its verdict.

The two-judge bench, however, decided to hear the case after a Delhi-based doctor argued that the burden would discourage private laboratories and reduce the country’s capacity to conduct tests.

“Even the present capacity of the labs, both government and private, appears to be woefully insufficient to obtain accurate data and control the pandemic”, he stated.

The Centre’s Indian Council of Medical Research, which had once appealed to laboratories to test people without a charge, had also asked the top court to modify its order.

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