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Delhi: Private labs claim not paid in full for Covid tests, officials cite ‘delays’

Of the total amount, Rs 35 crore was released as an advance or in the first phase of payment soon after the verification process was completed. Another Rs 3-Rs 4 crore was released in the second phase after laboratories produced additional documents.

Written by Anonna Dutt | New Delhi |
Updated: July 4, 2022 10:02:43 am
labs alleged that the random sampling has resulted in a high proportion of payments being deducted. (File photo)

Several labs in the West district said that they have been paid less to the tune of crores for Covid-19 tests when payments for bills worth more than Rs 50 crore, that were pending clearance for two years, were finally released.

District authorities, however, said the deductions are based on a random sample verification method adopted by a six-member committee, with payments being deducted for samples processed or reports released beyond 48 hours.

Of the total amount, Rs 35 crore was released as an advance or in the first phase of payment soon after the verification process was completed. Another Rs 3-Rs 4 crore was released in the second phase after laboratories produced additional documents.

According to a district official, “Some labs received payments over the two years, but for some reason, thousands of files with bills worth Rs 50 crore remained pending between April 2020 and January 2022. Much of these payments have been released. The labs have been given the appropriate opportunities to complete documentation to get more payment. In fact, even after the last date, many laboratories were given additional time to furnish documents.”

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However, labs alleged that the random sampling has resulted in a high proportion of payments being deducted. “District officials have picked up a small number of the crores of samples for which payments were pending and checked it against the ICMR portal. Now, we have been giving timely reports to Delhi government facilities, especially the positive ones, but they are now deducting money based on ICMR entries. There were delays in uploading data to the ICMR portal, especially during the peak of the second wave,” said one lab owner.

The owner added, “How can we keep functioning if the government deducts crores of rupees? We have done the tests. Anyway, prices of government samples are low.”

A committee member, on condition of anonymity, said, “How can the government justify the payment for samples that were either not processed on time or for which results were not added to the public portal within 48 hours. It defeats the whole public goal of ensuring that those with Covid are isolated at the earliest.”

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The entire testing team of the West district was dissolved earlier this year when pendency of bills kept increasing. A new team was appointed in February. To clear dues, a six-member panel was set up that was tasked with figuring out how many samples each lab must be paid for, along with determining the cause of delays. In the 200-page report, the committee said the cause of the delays was unknown.

However, instead of calling people to verify that they had given the samples and received their report, the committee suggested the records be verified against the ones maintained by dispensaries from where the samples were submitted and cross-referenced with the ICMR portal.

Almost all RT-PCR samples collected by government dispensaries and polyclinics – except around 200 samples sent to the National Centre for Disease Control — were sent to designated labs for testing. Earlier, to check whether samples were actually tested, some people were called up at random.

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“However, for samples dating back to April 2020 or the peak of the second wave last year, there would have been a huge recall bias. So, the committee decided to match the claims made by the lab against the maximum capacity of the lab and the number of samples sent by attached dispensaries, with the amount being paid as per whichever number was the lowest. As a second layer of verification, the committee decided to match 5% of the records against the ICMR portal; labs aren’t supposed to conduct the tests without generating a unique ID for everyone on the portal,” the committee member explained.

The member added, “There were samples for which the data had not been uploaded till 48 hours. There were samples where collection and processing dates were different. Or there were samples where the name of the patient differed. All such samples weren’t considered for payment.”

The labs were given opportunities to correct the paperwork to get paid. “There were labs where there have been zero deductions because their documentation was complete; why couldn’t the others have done it? The government needs proper documentation for releasing payments as they face audits,” said the committee member.

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First published on: 04-07-2022 at 08:18:53 am

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