The Kerala High has effectively stayed a November 2020 Order of the Kerala government reducing the price of various Covid-19 tests, including RT-PCR (R-Cell Diagnostics and Ors. v. State of Kerala).
The price for the RTPCR test, in particular, was slashed to Rs 1500 from Rs 2100.
A Bench of Justice PV Asha issued the direction yesterday upon the High Court being moved by various private laboratories and diagnostic centres.
Finding that the State had not taken their grievances into consideration, the Court ordered the State government to consider the objections raised by the private laboratories and diagnostic centres within three weeks from the date of judgment and take a decision thereafter.
During the hearing, the petitioners contended that the reduction of the maximum charges for the tests is unreasonable and was fixed without authority. The petitioner diagnostic society contended that they incurred more expenditure in conducting the tests than what the government’s costs revealed and asserted that premium customers who visited private labs could afford to make the payments.
The expense incurred by private labs could not be compared to those under the government because private labs had to create separate facilities and engage highly qualified personnel for conducting these tests, the petitioners additionally stated.
Additionally, relying upon a Supreme Court order, the petitioners through their counsel advocate Paul Jacob stated that private labs could continue to charge payment for Covid-19 tests along the lines of the costs prescribed by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).
While challenging the State Government’s authority to fix the fees for a Covid-19 test, the petitioner-labs additionally contended that the ICMR itself could not prescribe the price of tests but for the Supreme Court order.
On the other hand, Additional Advocate General Ranjth Thampan asserted that it was well within the State’s authority to fix rates for Covid-19 testing, referencing a letter from the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Family Welfare and that of Department of Health research of Government of India and Director General of ICMR.
The new rates were reduced gradually after a meticulous market analysis of the costs of reagents, test kits, and prices in other states, the State additionally argued.
As a result of the reduction in price, the common man is benefited and more people were approaching private labs for Covid-19 tests, despite the same being undertaken gratuitously by the government, the State submitted further.
Refraining from deciding the petitioner’s arguments vis-à-vis the authority of the State government and the ICMR to fix the price of Covid-19 tests, Justice Asha instead observed that the grievances of the petitioners did not seem to have been considered by the State government before the decision to slash prices was taken.
Therefore, the Court deemed it appropriate to direct a reconsideration of the matter within three weeks after hearing the grievances of the petitioners.
As narrated in the Order, the price for the RTPCR test was initially Rs. 4,750. Later, the price was reduced to Rs. 2,750, then Rs. 2,100 and ultimately to Rs. 1,500 in November.
The labs have been now directed to charge Rs. 2,100 for the RTPCR pending the government’s reconsideration.