No more ₹4,500 cap on COVID-19 tests at private labs: ICMR

ICMR says states can decide on the cost after reaching a mutual agreement with private laboratories

MLA, coronavirus, Madhya Pradesh, Rajya Sabha polls, COVID-19
Earlier, a Congress MLA was found infected. He had voted for the Rajya Sabha polls on Friday after reaching the state assembly complex wearing a PPE suit.

Two months after the Centre capped the cost of testing a sample for COVID-19 at private laboratories at ₹4,500, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday (May 26) announced that states could decide on the cost, Hindustan Times reported.

Both government and private laboratories have been testing samples for the disease. On March 21, the Union Health Ministry, as per the guidelines issued by the ICMR, announced that private laboratories should not charge more than ₹4,500 for a test. The amount included ₹1,500 for screening and ₹3,000 for confirmation.

Within a few weeks, the Supreme Court ordered that private laboratories must conduct COVID-19 tests for free. However, the order was reversed after a few days. Since then, private labs have been charging not more than ₹4,500 for a test. But labs had been complaining that they could not even recover their expenses.

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In this scenario, the ICMR announced the removal of the price cap on COVID-19 testing. Due to the significant improvement in the testing capacity and infrastructure, the price ceiling has been removed, said Balram Bhargava, the director-general of ICMR, in a letter written to chief secretaries of all states.

Bhargava said the ICMR suggested the price cap of ₹4,500 on March 17 on the basis of the costs involved in the import of test kits and carrying out a test. “…As such in mid-March, no rates for RT-PCR test for coronavirus were available for ready reference in the country,” he said in the letter said.

The apex research body advised the governments of all states and union territories to fix a price for COVID-19 testing after reaching a mutual agreement with private laboratories. There are as many as 182 private laboratories in the country conducting tests for COVID-19, while the number of government laboratories is around 430.

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