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Private labs can’t charge people for Covid-19 tests, orders Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday barred private laboratories from testing patients for coronavirus disease. The judges said they were satisfied that there was a case for not charging patients for the tests and would decide later if they were entitled to any reimbursement from the government.

“The private Hospitals including laboratories have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis. We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction to accredited private Labs to conduct free of cost COVID-19 test,” the bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said.

The court said allowing private labs to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation test of Covid-19 may not be within means of a large part of population of this country. No person should be deprived of the test due to the person’s inability to pay for the test.

The judges had indicated that they were inclined to accept the petitioner-lawyer Shashank Deo Sudhi’s request early in the day. He had submitted that government hospitals are packed to capacity and it has become difficult for the common man to get himself/herself tested in the government labs.

Private labs had been roped in India to conduct tests for Covid-19 since government facilities are not sufficient in the face of increasing case counts. According to the Union health ministry website, India reported 5,194 cases and 149 fatalities as of Wednesday afternoon.

Incidentally when the Indian Council of Medical Research had earlier spoken of allowing private labs to conduct tests, the government had underlined that it appealed to them to conduct the tests free of charge.

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