RT-PCR test price capped at Rs 950 in West Bengal
Times of India, 04 December 2020
KOLKATA: The Bengal government on Thursday lowered the ceiling on RT-PCR tests to Rs 950 from Rs 1,500, making the Covid-identifying investigation affordable for a large section of the population even as private hospitals and laboratories said the new price may not be feasible for them unless the cost of re-agents used for the test was brought down.
The price of rapid tests TRUNAT and CBNAAT have been capped at Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,400 respectively.
This is the third time since June that the RT-PCR ceiling has been revised. While initially the cost of an RT-PCR test was Rs 4,500, it was capped for the first time on June 26 at Rs 2,250. Later, on September 28, a cap of Rs 1,201 was announced but it was withdrawn within hours. On October 12, the cap was revised to Rs 1,500.
The new ceiling will make it difficult for private establishments that have a substantial running cost, said AMRI Hospitals CEO Rupak Barua. “Two re-agents are used for RT-PCR tests that cost around Rs 650. That apart, we have a substantial running and manpower cost which can’t be reduced. While we welcome the decision to lower the RT-PCR charge, it will be difficult for us to sustain it at this cost unless we can procure the re-agents (consumables) at a cheaper rate,” said Barua
He added that AMRI will appeal to the state government to help procure re-agents from vendors who supply them to state hospitals at a lower rate. “It will help us carry on doing the same number of tests that we do now. AMRI carries out around 400 tests a day. We have invested Rs 50 lakh on RT-PCR infrastructure over the last four months,” said Barua.
He, however, added that the move will help to make the test affordable for a larger section which was necessary.
The price margin is now too thin to keep testing feasible, said Medica Superspecialty Hospital chairperson Alok Roy. “While we will follow the instruction, the ceiling has made things very tight for us,” said Roy. Medica conducts more than 400 RT-PCR tests a day.
Some hospitals like Peerless, however, have managed to scale down its re-agent procurement cost. “For us, it has dropped to almost one-third of what it was in June. So, it will not be too difficult for us to lower the charge. But the number of tests must remain constant for us to be able to sustain it at this price,” said CEO Sudipta Mitra.
While Peeless had been doing around 140 tests everyday till a month ago, the number has now dropped to around 90 a day on an average. “It’s a welcome trend and we would like the tests to reduce in number. But unfortunately, it will make it unviable for us,” said Mitra. The hospital, he added, has invested Rs 25 lakh on procuring RT-PCR equipment.
Even if the state arranged procurement of re-agents at a cheaper reate, hospitals will still have to bear the cost of manpower — consultants, technicians and data entry operators that can’t be reduced, pointed out Barua.
“The price capping will help in creating more access to testing and give substantial financial relief to the patient . However, the price point being set is less than the variable cost of running the test. In addition to the variable cost of the testing kits, extraction kits and Viral Transport Media (VTM), we have other costs like trained technicians, infrastructural cost, safety equipment and logistical costs which have not been taken into consideration. This would place us in deep financial misery,” said R Venkatesh, zonal director, RN Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences.