To regulate the cost of Covid-19 tests conducted by private laboratories across Maharashtra, the state Public Health Department Saturday issued a notification fixing the price for Covid-19 test at Rs 2,800 for swab collection and testing, and Rs 2,200 for cases where swab has already been collected.
Until now, private laboratories were charging Rs 4,500 for each real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, conducted to detect novel coronavirus. The new rates, which were approved by Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta, seeks to reduce the cost of Covid-19 tests by at least 37 per cent.
Government officials said when the price cap for Covid-19 test was fixed at Rs 4,500 by the central government, it was expected from the private labs to self-regulate and charge a nominal amount less than the capped rate. But private labs, they said, started to charge the ceiling price to make maximum profits.
On May 25, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had removed the price cap for Covid-19 tests and wrote to all state governments to fix the costs after consulting with stakeholders for RT-PCR testing.
State officials said a need to immediately cap prices further was felt to reduce profiteering as a huge proportion of the population was banking on the private sector for testing. Maharashtra conducts around 15,000 tests every day, of them 47 per cent are carried out in private labs. So far, the state has recorded 2.96 lakh tests in private labs and another 3.29 lakh in public sector. In Mumbai alone, 4,000-4,500 tests are carried out each day in both public and private labs.
“With huge volume (of tests) profit margin increases, so at this point even lower testing prices could churn out profit,” a state official said, adding that state officials have held a round of discussion with private lab owners in the matter.
Arokiaswamy Velumani, founder and managing director of Thyrocare, one of the approved labs for Covid-19 testing by ICMR, said they were consulted by the Maharashtra government about the cost incurred by them to procure raw material and logistics. “We will be able to comment after reading the entire order,” Velumani said.
An official from Suburban Diagnostics on Friday said they were awaiting the final order from the state government to know rates finalised by the latter.
The proposed rates, officials said, have been fixed based on procurement cost of kits, transportation charges of taking swab, and lab staff’s salary.
The proposed notification had stated that the government may consider to waive off or reduce GST on inputs that would further reduce the total cost of testing for laboratories. The final order, however, does not mention it.
To help private labs reduce basic cost, the draft notification had also proposed that private laboratories would be allowed to procure viral transmission medium, personal protective equipment (PPE), and extraction kits at procurement cost of the government.
The final government notification, meanwhile, directs private labs to feed data of Covid-19 positive cases on one portal instead of filling multiple forms that has proved time consuming and require more data entry operators.
Officials from private labs had earlier pointed out that they were supposed to report to the ICMR, the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and that the entire process was time consuming. “The reporting takes a lot of time, we have requested the government to ease the process,” an official from a private lab said.
According to the final notification, private labs would now have to feed data on only CV Analytics portal, and government agencies would draw information for each lab from the portal. Meanwhile, private labs have been asked to run at their full capacity on 24-hour shifts. “It has also been observed that operational capacity of all government laboratories is not utilised at all days,” a state official observed, suggesting that district officials must equally distribute samples to laboratories so that operational capacity is utilised.
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