The Maharashtra government has set up a four-member panel to negotiate with private testing laboratories in the state to reduce the cost of Covid-19 tests.
The panel, headed by Dr Sudhakar Shinde, the chief executive officer of State Health Assurance Society, has been asked to ensure a substantial reduction in the cost of Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test, which is the most commonly used diagnostic test for detecting coronavirus in a person.
A June 2 order of the Public Health Department, issued for the panel’s appointment, states that “the state government wants to bring down the (Covid-19) testing costs as much as possible for utilising the facilities to the optimum and conducting many more tests.”
The panel, also comprising Ajay Chandanwale, the deputy director of Medical Education and Research, professor Amita Joshi of Grant Medical College, and Dr Sadhana Tayade, director of Health Services, will have eight days to complete the discussions with the private laboratories and report back to the government.
Maharashtra has 44 public and 36 private approved testing laboratories for Covid-19. While the government laboratories have been conducting the tests free-of-charge, the private ones are known to charge Rs 4,500 per test — the ceiling price fixed in March by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for these tests.
Acting on complaints of overcharging by private facilities, Maharashtra had last month also capped treatment costs for 80 per cent of all private operational hospital beds.
The state’s latest move comes a week after the ICMR withdrew the Rs 4,500 price cap, granting states a free hand to negotiate with approved laboratories and fix the cost of Covid-19 tests. In a letter to the states on May 25, ICMR’s director general Dr Balram Bhargava had justified the withdrawal of the cap on grounds that the testing capacity and infrastructure have now seen a marked improvement and the country’s dependence on imported testing kits had reduced a great deal.
“At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, there was a global crisis of testing kits and reagents as India was heavily reliant on imported products for molecular detection of viruses. As such in mid-March, no rates for RT-PCR tests for coronavirus were available for reference in the country. Keeping in view the cost of imported kits and efforts involved in carrying out the test, ICMR had suggested the upper limit of a single test as INR 4500,” the advisory sent to all state chief secretaries stated.
It added, “The government has been working with domestic manufacturers by hand-holding and promoting them to locally manufacture swabs, viral transport medium, and RNA extraction kits. Due to varied options of testing materials/ kits, including indigenous ones, the prices are becoming competitive and are undergoing reduction. Keeping in view the evolving prices of the testing commodities, the earlier suggested upper ceiling of INR 4500 may not be applicable now and therefore all state governments/UT administrations are advised to negotiate with private labs and fix mutually agreeable prices for samples being sent by the government and also private individuals desirous of testing by these labs.”
Neighbouring Karnataka has already capped the Covid-19 testing price for samples sent by the government at Rs 2,250 for private labs within the state.
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