The Supreme Court of India has ruled that free testing for novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, will be available only to 'persons eligible under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana".
This has come as a major relief to private laboratories, who have been arguing that the earlier order of the court asking the government to get the private laboratories to do all testing for free would render the labs unviable.
Happy with the Supreme Court ruling, Dr Arvind Lal, chairman and managing director of Dr Lal Pathlabs, said the court has clarified that only Ayushman Bharat will be eligible for free testing, and the labs will be paid for the tests. However for others, the testing will be done at the rate fixed by the government - a price cap of Rs 4,500 per test.
Private laboratories have welcomed the move because they were not only dealing with lower revenues on account of decline in routine tests. Plus, they were having to make advance payments to built an inventory of coronavirus testing kits since nothing works on credit in the current market and it is all spot purchases or with advance payments. Also, some were complaining of added manpower costs also, which apparently, was on account of the shortage of manpower due to lockdown and those that were collecting the samples had to be paid overtime. Also, the fixed costs of the laboratories had remained unchanged.
Last week, on April 8, the apex court, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL), had ordered the government to ensure that the testing was conducted free-of-charge. Many within the testing community and even some from India Inc., like Biocon chairperson and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, had pointed out that the asking private laboratories to conduct free testing would render them unviable. In fact, in response to the latest Supreme Court order that clarified the matter, she tweeted that it "is a very sound ruling which is fair to all concerned".
One of the doctors at a private laboratory in Mumbai said this had come at a crucial time as the testing otherwise would have come to virtual standstill. He said the order was fair and quite acceptable to the laboratories as it was mainly to help the poorest people. Also, at the moment, this segment formed a very small percentage of the testing samples and many of the poor also, he said, had the option of approaching the government laboratories also, if they so preferred.