An unfair and unworkable test model | HT Editorial – Editorials
In a significant move, the Supreme Court earlier this week ordered that all tests for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) be done free. This applies both to government facilities, which were conducting tests free of charge, and to private laboratories, which, according to a guideline established by the government, were charging Rs 4500. The court order, far from making tests to be Accessible to all, it could reduce the scale of Indian testing and limit it by making it unfeasible for private laboratories to test it.
It is important to go back to the first principles here. Private companies, including laboratories, are not charities. They invest capital in the creation of infrastructure; they have working capital requirements to pay their staff, pay the rent, and execute operations; they charge patients and then hope to recoup the cost and make a profit. It is true that these are exceptional times. And that’s why, to their credit, private laboratories agreed to screen Covid-19 patients at cost, as determined by the Indian Council of Medical Research. What the court order has done is remove even this layer by not allowing private laboratories to charge any amount. How, then, is it possible for these labs to have the testing infrastructure, retain their employees, and conduct operations? In fact, the likely result of the court order is that at a time when India is desperately trying to increase testing capacity, private laboratories will reduce their operations and minimize, or even stop, testing. This will not only harm public health goals, but will further weaken the already fragile economy, especially if private laboratories decide to shut down operations.
The same logic applies to vaccine research; billions of dollars are spent on it; Imagine if excessively jealous courts around the world decided that a vaccine should be available for free. Who will bear the cost of the investigation? This is where the state comes in. In this case, the government must step in to efficiently compensate and reimburse private laboratories so that they can speed up testing without having to worry about commercial viability issues. It is important for courts and governments to realize that the primary responsibility for addressing the public health challenge rests with the State, not with private facilities, which can, at best, play a supporting role and supplementation. The order is also a reminder that what may seem noble at first glance may end up being counterproductive, even going against national goals.