ICMR removes price cap of Rs 4,500 for coronavirus test

ICMR removes price cap of Rs 4,500 for coronavirus test; asks state governments to negotiate with private laboratories

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The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has backtracked on the Rs 4,500 price ceiling it had set for conducting Covid-19 tests in private laboratories.

But instead of setting up a lower ceiling, the council has now asked the state governments to negotiate with private laboratories to offer the tests at a lower price.

“Testing supplies are stabilising and due to the availability of a variety of testing materials and kits, including indigenous ones, the prices are becoming competitive and are undergoing reduction. Considering these developments and the evolving prices of the testing kits, the earlier suggested upper ceiling of Rs 4,500 may not be applicable now,” ICMR director general Balaram Bhargava wrote in a letter to the states on Monday.

“All state governments and Union Territory administrations are advised to negotiate with private laboratories and fix up mutually agreeable prices for samples being sent by the government and also for private individuals desirous of testing by these labs,” he wrote. 

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The council in March fixed the price ceiling and defended the decision in the Supreme Court a month later. The price includes Rs 1,500 for screening and the rest for the confirmatory RT-PCR test. 

However, the public health activists questioned the cap and pointed out that it was too high for a large section of Indians who won’t be able to afford it.

The high price is considered one of the reasons for low Covid-19 testing at the government laboratories.

“There were several negative consequences of the high cap. There was also lack of clarity on how the cap was fixed,” commented Malini Aisola, co-convenor, All India Drug Action Network.

Several state governments like Karnataka (Rs 2,250), Delhi (Rs 4,500-2,200) and Mumbai (Rs 3,500-2,500) have negotiated reimbursement rates for testing of government samples that are lower than Rs 4,500.

“But these rates were not extended to individuals, resulting in families shelling out large amounts of money for testing of their family members,” she added.

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