Germany plans tighter controls on COVID test centres - draft

FILE PHOTO: Lockdown in the streets of Hamburg
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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's health ministry plans to crack down on fraud at test centres by implementing spot checks and reducing the amount the state reimburses for costs following media reports of over-billing by some providers.

It plans to cut the amount it reimburses per test to 12.50 euros ($15.20) from 18 euros, of which 8 euros is for carrying out the tests and 4.50 euros for the material, according to a draft of new testing legislation circulated on Thursday which must now be approved by other departments.

In addition, private test centres will only be approved on an individual basis to ensure quality, while health insurers will be obliged to check the plausibility of billing and conduct random checks.

Testing is central to Germany's strategy to contain coronavirus infections. As the economy gradually started to reopen this spring, a negative test no older than 24 hours was required to dine at restaurants, sit at cafes or shop in non-essential stores.

Since March 1, Germans are entitled to at least one free test per week, prompting test centres to spring up in bars, kiosks, art galleries and even pole dancing clubs in an unusually unbureaucratic way as business owners saw an income opportunity.

But some centres have been charging for more tests than they carried out, German media reported last month, and the government vowed to toughen restrictions to fight fraud.

On Thursday, Germany reported a 3,187 rise in coronavirus cases to a total of 3,709,129, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed. The seven-day virus incidence fell below 20 cases per 100,000.

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(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)