New Delhi: The National Health Authority (NHA), which implements the national health insurance scheme, on Saturday said that testing and treatment for COVID-19 will be free of cost for Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries at private laboratories and empanelled hospitals. It said this will strengthen the country’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Also Read - University of Pittsburgh Reports Successful Testing of COVID-19 Vaccine on Animals

“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. Also Read - Amid Efforts to Trace All Markaz Attendees, Quarantined Jamaat Members Resist Testing, Misbehave With Medical Staff

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. Also Read - Testing, Tracing, Isolation, Quarantine: PM Narendra Modi Shares 4-Point Plan With CMs

Further, 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.

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.

Treatment of COVID-19 by private hospitals will be covered under the AB-PMJAY, the NHA 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.

“Active private sector involvement will be critical in case there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 patient that need care. States are in the process of enlisting private sector hospitals that can be converted in to COVID-19 ONLY hospitals,” the NHA said.

(With agency inputs)