~ By Nachiketa Singh (Ph.D), Associate Professor, SGTB Khalsa College Delhi University
The third phase of countrywide graded lockdown-3.0 till mid-May has been announced by striking a balance between the need for continued social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus and the urgency to reopen the economic activities in Green zones. It was a much expected decision in the right direction, since the number of COVID-19 infected cases is steadily increasing in the country and so also human miseries out of economic hardship. However, we need to maintain the momentum of the ongoing fight against Corona virus with the help of a right strategy, given the new scenario arising out of the partial lifting of the lockdown is concerned. It should be a perfect blend of different critical measures taken simultaneously in a well-coordinated fashion.
Testing as an enabling measure as part of the broad strategy to fight Covid-19 pandemic is a much debated topic today. True to our democratic spirit and civic political culture, the argumentative Indians are fiercely debating the alternative strategies to fight the pandemic including how much testing is required. The debate over testing corona virus today sounds like the debate over climate change and environmental degradation between the developed and the developing countries such as whether such large scale testing is really required and if so, who is going to foot the bill for such expensive tests?
Extraordinary situation demands extraordinary action with alacrity on the part of the government. It is widely believed that the government needs to start extensive testing because the human to human contact is now going to increase due to reopening of economic activities and relocation of migrant labours in different parts of the country. It is known to us that South Korea managed to flatten the curve due to extensive testing across the length and breadth of the country at a very early stage. It is argued that only extensive testing is the right strategy to identify and quarantine infected people from the rest of the nation. So, there is no escape from doing so in our country as well. The onus here lies with three agencies on the ground, such as, the Government, the Health Insurance Companies and the Pathological Testing Laboratories, who should be extending their services and fulfill the professional, moral and constitutional obligations and rise to the occasion. This is the opportunity at this time of crisis for insurance companies and private path labs to show exemplary professionalism and respond to the call of duty with a sense of responsibility towards the nation.
Health insurance companies receive huge amount of annual premiums every year from their clients, a small part of which are spent on claim settlements. But a major portion remains with them as their corporate earnings or profit, as most policy holders do not necessarily need to claim reimbursement of any medical expenses during the policy tenure. So these health insurance companies are today expected to extend their service by bearing the cost of Covid-19 tests for all policyholders. This way, a sizeable section of urban middle class with health insurance policies can avail the benefit of free test.
The Second player in this proposed plan of action are the Private Pathological Laboratories, which are expected to do the testing free for all and later receive part of their expenses as government subsidy. This contribution can be seen as their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in this hour of national health emergency.
Last but not the least; the Government is required to give Income Tax exemption to tax payers for the expenditure to voluntarily undergo Covid test. Though the number would be very less but it will act as an incentive and encouragement to honest taxpayers in the country. However, the income tax relief on this head will be a partial help to the tax payers as they are expected to bear the rest of the balance amount of the test on their own. Individual tax payers are responsible citizens, who understand their role in this fight against Corona virus and they can afford to do so for having decent taxable income of their own. So the tax exemption is going to be a kind of subsidy to the income tax payers by the government. The other subsidy, which the government is supposed to provide to the testing facilities at Private Path Labs, is to cover part of the expenditure on testing, which can be reimbursed by them after the report is sent to ICMR or any other agency for verification and necessary action.
If the government and these two players such as Health Insurance Companies and Private Pathological Laboratories work in tandem and in close coordination with each other, then the next phase of the fight against Corona virus in India is going to be a lot easier.