NEW DELHI: Testing and treatment for COVID-19 will be free of cost for Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries at private laboratories and empanelled hospitals, the National Health Authority (NHA) said on Saturday.
The NHA, which implements the national health insurance scheme, said this will strengthen the country's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"Testing and treatment of COVID-19 is already available for free in public facilities. Now, more than 50 crore citizens, eligible under the health assurance scheme will be able to avail free testing through private labs and treatment for COVID-19 in empanelled hospitals," it said in a statement.
Hospitals empanelled under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) can use their authorised testing facilities or tie up with an authorised testing facility, the NHA said.
The COVID-19 tests will be carried out as per protocols of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and by private labs approved or registered by it, the authority said.
Treatment of COVID-19 by private hospitals will be covered under the AB-PMJAY, it said.
"In this unprecedented crisis we have to very actively involve the private sector as a key partner and stakeholder in the fight against COVID-19," Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.
"Making testing and treatment available under Ayushman Bharat PM-JAY will significantly expand our capacities by including private sector hospitals and labs and mitigate the adverse impact of this catastrophic illness on the poor," he said.
This decision comes with the objective to increase the supply of testing and treatment facilities.
As per ICMR guidelines for COVID-19 testing by private laboratories, the test is to be conducted by a laboratory which has NABL accreditation for real-time polymerase chain reaction assay for a ribonucleic acid virus.
The National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) is a constituent board of quality council in the country.
Laboratory tests should be only offered when prescribed by a qualified physician for COVID-19 testing, the ICMR guidelines state.
This decision will also help attract more private sector players for providing testing and treatment for the coronavirus.
"Active private sector involvement will be critical in case there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients that needs care.
States are in the process of enlisting private sector hospitals that can be converted into COVID-19 ONLY hospitals," the NHA said.