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Delhi: Covid test prices slashed again; private labs say not consulted, can’t break even

🔴 RT-PCR rates now Rs 300, home collection to cost Rs 500

Written by Anonna Dutt | New Delhi |
Updated: January 21, 2022 10:30:07 am
Not only does the order cap the test prices, it also states that all samples have to be processed within 12 hours of receiving them. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

The Delhi government on Thursday further slashed the prices of Covid-19 testing, reducing the cost of the gold-standard RT-PCR test to Rs 300 if the samples are given at the lab or hospital and Rs 500 if they are collected from home. Several private lab owners, however, said it will be impossible for them to sustain business at these rates.

Last year in August, the government had fixed the prices at Rs 500 for lab collection and Rs 700 for home collection. The cost of the less accurate rapid antigen test was also fixed at Rs100, reduced from Rs 300 previously fixed by the government.

The government will pay private labs Rs 200 for sample collected by it and Rs 300 for samples collected by the private labs at the behest of the government.

“All labs/hospitals will display the revised rates at (a) prominent place latest within 24 hours of this order. This order comes into effect immediately and is for strict compliance by all concerned,” according to the order by Delhi’s principal health secretary Manisha Saxena.

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Owners of several private labs that The Indian Express spoke to said that they will not be able to break-even at the prices being offered by the government.

Said Dr Naveen Dang, founder of Dr Dang’s Lab: “We were barely breaking even at the cost that was being offered, with the new price we will not be able to do even that. The cost of the test has to cover not only the reagents, but consumables, quality manpower, quality kits, waste disposal and all. The cost of the kits also vary with the quality of the kits; we are committed to give the best quality reports at the best possible turn-around time. All this comes at a cost.”

Dr Arvind Lal, chairman and managing director of Dr Lal Pathlabs, added: “It is most unfortunate that the government has once again unilaterally lowered the pricing of the most important test in the pandemic, namely the Covid RT-PCR, without discussing it with the laboratory fraternity or trying to understand the different costs involved.”

A private lab owner, who did not want to be named, said all labs have decided to stop doing rapid antigen tests: “The kits cost me Rs 95, how can I do the test for Rs 100? Besides, the government is yet to pay crores they owe us. Our survival is at stake.”

“It is next to impossible for us to keep the lab running at the prices offered by the government. They only account for the kit prices, but we have to account for incentives to technicians for samples collection, salaries of microbiologists, data entry operators and other staff, fumigation, sterilisation, PPE kits, and maintenance of the machines. I won’t even save Rs 10 per test. I will have to stop home collection from tomorrow,” the owner added.

The Indian Express had previously reported that half of the samples collected by the government centres were being analysed by private labs. The increase in testing capacity from 1,00,000 a day to 3,00,000 was aided largely by newer private labs opening up.

The order also states that all samples have to be processed within 12 hours of receiving it. Further, it states, the reports of all positive cases have to be uploaded on the ICMR portal within 30 minutes of processing the samples and all negative reports have to be uploaded latest within 24 hours of receiving the samples.

According to a senior government official, this was done because some labs were collecting more samples than they could process leading to delays in reporting. Earlier, the government said samples were to be processed within 24 hours.

“People will start pooling samples, use bad quality reagents at this cost,” said the private lab owner.

Another owner of a city laboratory added: “The government has slashed prices, but wants us to invest more in manpower so that we can do the tests in 12 hours? How is that possible? People will cut corners and compromise on quality.”

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