Supreme Court asks Centre to fix Covid-19 test rates across country

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Taking note of dissimilarity in Covid-19 testing rates across states, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to decide on the issue, and said all states should set up a panel of experts to inspect hospitals to ensure proper care of patients.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and MR Shah, which would pass the order later, observed during the hearing that there should be uniformity in rates charged across all states.

It indicated however that the court will not venture into the fixation of the charges which will be taken care of by the Centre.

It said the court may also consider passing an order for installation of CCTVs in hospitals to ensure monitoring of patient care.

In the last week of May, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) removed the price cap of Rs 4,500 for the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test used to detect coronavirus disease (Covid-19), allowing the states a free hand to negotiate with the approved list of laboratories and fix the cost to conduct Covid-19 test.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICMR said, there was a global crisis of testing kits and reagents, as India was heavily reliant on imported products for molecular detection of viruses. No rates for RT-PCR test for coronavirus were available for ready reference in the country, the top medical body said.

The cost of imported kits and efforts involved in carrying out the test made the ICMR to suggest the upper limit of a single test at Rs 4,500.

Since then the government has been working with domestic manufacturers to bring down the cost and develop kits.

The ICMR this week recommended use of antigen-based testing kits for diagnosis that is likely to bring down the cost of testing. However, hospitals say the kit is not readily available in market yet.

Earlier today, in relief to Covid-19 patients in Delhi, which has seen a sudden rise in cases over the past week, a panel set up by the Union home ministry has recommended lowering the cost of isolation beds and treatment at the intensive care units at the private hospitals in the national capital.

On Monday, the Telangana government capped the cost of Covid-19 tests and treatment at private labs and hospitals across the state. State health minister Eatala Rajender said the private labs authorised by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in the state would not charge more than Rs 2,200 per person for a single Covid-19 diagnostic test.