Govt lowers cap, RT-PCR tests for Rs 800 at private labs
The Delhi government on Monday capped the price of RT-PCR tests, considered the gold standard in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) detection, at Rs 800 for all private laboratories, reducing the amount from Rs 2,400.
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are accurate but have so far remained costly, and with higher turnaround times than rapid antigen tests. Rapid antigen tests, however, are often inaccurate when it comes to so-called false negatives, or giving negative results to people who may be Covid-positive.
According to an order issued by Delhi’s health department, while RT-PCR tests at all private laboratories and hospitals will cost Rs 800, and home collection of samples will be conducted at Rs 1,200.
Until Sunday, the cost of an RT-PCR test was capped at Rs 2,400 irrespective of whether a person visited a laboratory or opted for home collection. The changes came into effect after the order was issued on Monday afternoon, and most private labs calibrated their systems by early evening.
Covid-19 tests at all government facilities in Delhi will continue to be free, the government said.
“I have directed that the rates of RT-PCR tests be reduced in Delhi. Whereas tests are being conducted free of cost in government establishments, however, this will help those who get their tests done in private labs,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Monday.
A record 69,051 tests, including 33,147 RT-PCR tests, were conducted on Friday.
The Centre announced on November 17 that it planned to double the testing capacity to 100,000-120,000 by the month end, with a focus on increasing RT-PCR tests in the Capital. Though RT-PCR tests have consistently been scaled up in the city over the past fortnight, the plan to double testing is yet to materialise.
Monday’s order mandated all labs and hospitals to display the revised rates at prominent places within their premises by Tuesday for awareness among the people. It also reminded all private stakeholders involved in Covid-19 testing to ensure that the processing of samples, sharing of reports with the clients and updating all reports in the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) portal is done within 24 hours of the collection of the sample.
On June 18, the Delhi government capped the price of all Covid-19 tests at private labs at ₹2,400. The decision was taken at a Delhi Disaster Management Authority meeting chaired by lieutenant governor Anil Baijal, and attended by Kejriwal, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, revenue minister Kailash Gahlot and other top officials from the Delhi Police, administration and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
Prior to the ₹2,400 cap, the cost of a Covid-19 test was ₹4,500 if the private labs collected the sample and used their own kits; ₹3,500 if the government collected the samples and the private labs used their kits to test it; and ₹2,200 if the government collected the sample and provided the test kit as well. While the government paid these charges to the private labs, residents across Delhi were charged a flat rate of ₹4,500.
“The government should have consulted with the private laboratories before capping prices; we are with the government during the crisis. The prices that have been fixed are workable. The price for kits has reduced over time. Initially, when the test prices were capped at ₹4,500, there were probably five suppliers; now we have 50 and they are offering competitive prices,” said Dr Arvind Lal, chairman of the Dr Lal PathLabs.
Dr Deepak Sadhwani, head of Prognosis Laboratories, said: “The prices are fair and will allow us to work with a narrow margin. The only issue that I find would be one of billing. The order says that we can charge patients ₹800 at the collection centre or at hospitals but ₹1,200 if we go home. The charges for all samples collected by the government should have been ₹800 and all samples collected privately ₹1,200; if a phlebotomist collects a sample from home and tells me it has been collected from a hospital, I will have to believe them. And, it will be a loss for the laboratories.”