Meanwhile, the Assembly’s Committee on Women Empowerment on Friday asked the state government to reconsider the rates for COVID-19 tests as well.
The suggestions were made during a meeting convened by the CWE chairperson and Congress MLA from East Shillong, Dr. Ampareen Lyngdoh with officials from the health department and food civil supplies and consumer affairs department in the city here.
The issues related to the implementation of the Meghalaya Health Insurance Scheme (MHIS) and the various schemes of the Government of India under National Food Security Act (NFSA) vis-à-vis the impact of the COVID-19 on the people were discussed.
This also came after the state government had recently issued a notification which exempted BPL families from payment for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
“We have requested both these departments to immediately look into the urgency at which we need to ensure that people of the state do not face further hardships as because of the lockdown and post lockdown period till today livelihoods are still very challenging in Meghalaya. Thousands of people have come back to the state and left their jobs in other states even though those individuals remained to be out of these important schemes. Therefore, the MHIS and NFSA are very important aids for the people of the state,” Lyngdoh told reporters.
Regarding the NFSA, the chairperson said there are over 21,45,015 beneficiaries who are covered under NFSA and non-NFSA schemes in the state out of which rural coverage is at 77.79 percent and urban coverage at 50.87 percent.
When enquired from the secretary of food civil supplies on the low coverage in urban Meghalaya, she said the committee found out that a total of 57,083 pending applications of which 11,108 are in East Khasi Hills alone, remained unattended since 2016.
“Having seen this, we have requested the department to fast track all these pending applications so that at least within the quota that the government of Meghalaya received under the NFSA, whoever has been left out from the system can be included,” she said.
The secretary of the department also briefed the committee that the deletion of names from the current (NFSA) list is also pending because large numbers of NFSA and non NFSA cards remained unclaimed.
The chairperson said the committee has decided to review the NFSA at this stage after the state government through its notification issued on October 6, had clearly defined who will be able to access COVID-19 testing and treatment free of cost.
She said the notification had categorically mentioned that citizens who are NFSA card holders (yellow and pink colour cards) can access free testing and treatment for COVID-19.
“Now in the event of 50 percent of a red zone like Shillong is not covered under the scheme, we will be in a very tight spot in this red zone because individuals will no longer be able to pay for the test as and when required. The notification has clearly and categorical states that only high risk individuals having yellow or pink BPL cards will be given free treatment whereas others down the line who are not high risk but who may still be positive because of whatever medical reasons in their proximity to a person who tested positive, now in this situation it is going to be very tricky for people of Shillong particularly and other cities like Ri Bhoi, North Garo Hills and East Jaintia Hills, where there is huge surge in the numbers of COVID positive cases. The coverage of BPL card holders in these areas sometime is under 50 percent like North Garo Hills, it is 47.35 percent. Therefore, we have requested identification of people who will be getting a free COVID testing and treatment facility,” Lyngdoh said.
She however suggested that in the Shillong city scenario, there has to be a system put in place by the government, so that the poorest of the poor, who are probably already listed in the latest census data may also be benefited and covered under this scheme.
“Also to my knowledge, the authority for certification of BPL cards is the CEO. If one person alone is to be engaged for BPL certification, then it may delay further the testing procedures and availing of COVID treatment free of cost,” she added.
As far as the implementation of the MHIS is concerned, the CWE chairperson said that the coverages under the scheme are still very inadequate.
She said the MHIS coverage is only 53.97 percent in East Khasi Hills, which has the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases in the state while in other districts affected by the pandemic like Ri Bhoi and North Garo Hills is at 49.6 percent and 47.35 percent respectively.
“So, if individuals do not have this MHIS coverage (as government has decided that COVID-19 is no longer free from the October 16), there is going to be lot of hue and cry and lots of pressure for the public, if government does not take necessary interventions at the right time,” Lyngdoh said.
She informed that the health department has assured to have a consultation programme with the government departments to ensure these queries put up by the committee are attended to immediately.
The state government has fixed Rs 3,200 for RT-PCR, CBNAAT and Truenat while Rs 500 for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).
Stating that the rates fixed for COVID-19 test in the state are exceptionally on the higher side, Lyngdoh said Rs 3,200 – Rs 3,500 are all very high cost.
“If a family has 14 members, who all have to undergo testing for COVID because of exposure to the disease, you just multiply 14 x Rs 3,300 and see the kind of money required by that family has to take up to ensure this testing is done,” she said.
On the justification given by the health department, she said, “They are saying that the rates are higher in our state because the cost of the testing kits are very high and now that the ICMR no longer is giving free kits to Meghalaya , the government will now has to pay for the kits.”