Is the ICMR cap too high? Calls to reduce the trial price
With several states managing to reduce the cost of RT-PCR testing for Covid-19 to about half the 4,500 rupee ceiling set by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the cries to review the study have become more powerful.
The fact that some private labs are offering packages of 50 or more tests, including the Covid-19 test, for just Rs 5,000 has also reinforced the argument that the ICMR limit may be too generous.
In many states, as the number of Covid-19 tests performed in private laboratories increases, governments have announced the reimbursement rate they pay private laboratories for samples sent to them. It ranges from as little as Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,500 in Haryana.
However, for those who are tested in hospitals and for those who pay for the test in a laboratory, the cost is Rs 4,500, the limit set by the ICMR. The central government The Health Plan (CGHS) and a similar plan for Delhi government employees also continue to observe the maximum price of Rs 4,500.
Although the ICMR had called on private laboratories to test free of charge by announcing the maximum price and giving their approval to private laboratories for Covid-19 testing, it is not surprising that there were no candidates for that appeal. Private labs argue that with the wages to pay and the costs of kits and reagents, they could not do it for free.
Thyrocare, a leading player in the diagnostics market, has promoted packages such as Safe Surgery Profile, Safe Pregnancy Profile, Safe IVF Profile, and Safe Dialysis Profile, each claiming to perform between 50 and 53 tests, including the RT-PCR test for Covid-19, for only Rs 4,999. Interestingly, during the price debate when the labs were criticized for charging the full maximum price, Thyrocare had published detailed calculations in the public domain showing that the actual cost of the RT-PCR test would be Rs 5,000. They claimed that even at Rs 4,500, they would not be covering the full cost of doing the test.
“If what Thyrocare says is true, how do they manage to do 51 tests, including the Covid RT-PCR test for Rs 4,999? Are you saying that the cost of 50 tests is only 500 rupees? asked Dr. Rohit Jain of the Society of Pathologists.
These 50 tests alone would cost Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 according to various pre-surgical packages announced by various laboratories. This is a clear indication that the RT-PCR test does not cost even Rs 4,500 as these laboratories claim. It probably costs around 2,500 rupees or less, which is the reimbursement rate set by some state governments, and even at that rate laboratories make a profit, Dr. Jain said.
The fact that laboratories are willing to test at the rates set by state governments, some as low as Rs 2,000, suggests that their reasoning is sound.
Reimbursement rates set by states demonstrate that the ICMR ceiling is significantly inflated, said Malini Aisola of the All India Network (AIDAN). AIDAN has repeatedly demanded that the government guarantee free tests for all by reimbursing private laboratories based on a rational cost assessment.
“Most people require proof at the addresses of government agencies, employers or as a prerequisite to access health services. For many, the cost would be prohibitive and it is the government's obligation to provide free tests, as it is a critical tool to contain the outbreak. Free testing would also reduce incentives to profit from private laboratories and more appropriate use of test kits, which are limited, said Aisola.
Which states are paying pvt labs?
Gujarat - Rs 2,000
- Rs 2,250
Tamil Nadu - 2,500 rupees
Haryana - Rs 3,500
Mumbai (BMC): 3,500 rupees
Delhi: 3,500 rupees (if samples are sent by the government, 4,500 rupees if the laboratory collects the sample)