Coronavirus free testing in India — boon or bane ?

This article tries to evaluate the Supreme Courts decision of ordering free testing. Amidst the deepening crisis, will the decision increase testing or result in an unanticipated and dangerous outcome. Amidst the scathing criticism of the Indian government’s inability to test people, does this landmark decision impact the future of testing ?

The supreme court of India ordered free testing of coronavirus in private labs. This has led to the lead of a widespread resentment among the private labs who have to experience an unfair financial liability. It might dis-incentivise and discourage the private sector from playing any role in this fight against coronavirus. The cap estimated by the ICMR determined the minimum cost and is a considerable amount in the running costs of a business. This might lead to a huge shortage in the working capital in the business , compelling them to shutdown businesses or laying off employees further decreasing the frequency of testing. As small and medium enterprises face an acute shortage of working capital and liquidity crisis amidst lockdowns that has reduced demand for other tests and facilities , and operation on credit could cease the operations of the business. This could increase the unemployment in the economy amidst the recessionary trend. These businesses have huge expenses incurred on skilled manpower, consumables , reagents and other infrastructure specifics , and other proactive gears and equipments amidst the pandemic.The government could make provisions for offering cheap and flexible working capital loans to these businesses to meet the necessities of business that would offer some incentives to the private sector and provides reimbursements in the long term . In addition , the government could offer subsidies to these businesses to meet their cost requirements. It could take the form of wage subsidies or subsidies on testing kits that would reduce the overall cost of testing and reduce the losses. The revision of taxes and other tax exemptions for a given period of time would encourage the private sector to come forward. The government should direct the insurance companies to pay for the testing of people. Recognising the fact the many people in India are not insured , the government can use its budget on national health insurance schemes for providing relief to the vulnerable people. This could be supplemented by a proper identification of beneficiaries thought the existing mechanisms to determine who should advantage from this free testing. The government can expect the private sector to contribute for CSR ( Corporate Social Responsibility ) and test a pre-determined number of patients for free. In the long term , the government should place a cap on the price as determined to be the cost of kit but not eliminate the fees completely. The issuing of import licenses for companies importing antibody kits should be eased and encouraged, which would empower rapid testing. The development of indigenous kits should be given emphasis with two Indian firms coming up with local kits, which would bring down the costs. The government can come up with import subsidies to encourage import of kits by firms. This would help to keep this functional sector in the economy involved in economic activity amidst the prevailing recessionary trend. The government should encourage PPP in testing, proving private sector with funds and utilising the dynamics and efficiency of the testing of private labs to increase testing in India.