ICMR removes cap of 4,500 for Covid-19 tests; states free to fix the cost

ICMR director-general Dr. Balram Bhargava wrote to all the state chief secretaries that Rs 4,500, which was the ceiling price fixed earlier to conduct the RT-PCR test, is no longer applicable, as the testing capacity and infrastructure have improved significantly.
A doctor takes a swab sample of a resident at a COVID-19 coronavirus testing drive inside the Dharavi slums during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
A doctor takes a swab sample of a resident at a COVID-19 coronavirus testing drive inside the Dharavi slums during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
Updated on May 26, 2020 06:36 PM IST
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The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday removed the price cap of Rs4,500 for the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test used to detect coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Now, the states have been given a free hand to negotiate with the approved list of laboratories and fix the cost to conduct Covid-19 test.

ICMR director-general Dr. Balram Bhargava wrote to all the state chief secretaries that Rs 4,500, which was the ceiling price fixed earlier to conduct the RT-PCR test, is no longer applicable, as the testing capacity and infrastructure have improved significantly since the onset of the viral outbreak in the country. The dependence on imported kits has also become negligible because of an increase in domestic production.

“At the onset of the Covid-19 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 test for coronavirus were available for ready reference in the country. Keeping in view the cost of imported kits and efforts involved in carrying out the test, ICMR suggested the upper limit of a single test at Rs 4,500,” the letter said.

In April, Karnataka took the lead and capped the Covid-19 test rate at Rs2,250 in private laboratories for the swab samples sent by the government.

Private laboratories elsewhere in the country are also dragging down their costs. “We’ve already reworked our costs to Rs3,500 for each test. This is the rate that we’re offering to the Delhi government,” said Dr. Arvind Lal, chairman, and managing director, Dr. Lal Path Labs.

There are 428 and 182 government and private laboratories, respectively, which are engaged in Covid-19 tests, and have a combined capacity of conducting 1.4 lakh tests in a day.

“… keeping in view of the evolving prices of the testing commodities, the earlier suggested upper ceiling of Rs4,500 may not be applicable now. All state governments/Union Territory administrations are being advised to negotiate with private laboratories and fix mutually agreeable prices for samples being sent by the government and also private individuals who want to get tested in these laboratories,” said the letter.

The government has been working with domestic manufacturers. “… by handholding and promoting them to locally manufacture swabs, viral transport medium, and RNA extraction kits…. now testing supplies are also stabilising and many of you have started procuring such kits from the local market. Due to varied options of testing materials/kits including indigenous ones, the prices are becoming competitive and are undergoing reduction,” added the letter.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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