Private hospitals and pathology laboratories in West Bengal slashed prices of COVID-19 test kits by up to 45 per cent and claimed to have started the process of reducing the overall treatment cost.
The move comes after the issue of high costs incurred by patients for COVID-19 tests and treatment at private medical facilities became a nationwide concern, forcing the Supreme Court to intervene.
West Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha on Thursday held discussions with representatives of private hospitals on growing complaints about the pricing issue and expressed displeasure over the variation in rates charged by the different private facilities.
The Supreme Court on Friday called for a uniform price structure for the COVID-19 testing across the country.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the government’s nodal agency dealing with the pandemic, had lifted the price cap of ₹4,500 per test after the cost of testing kits dropped.
The ICMR also asked the states and the union territories to fix a price.
Accordingly, in Delhi, the price cap per test for private laboratories has been fixed at ₹2,400, in Maharashtra at ₹2200 and ₹2500 in Uttar Pradesh.
In West Bengal, the private laboratories had been charging anything between ₹2800 and ₹4500 as the state government did not fix any rate for them.
However, after the prodding from the chief secretary, the rate has been slashed.
Dr. Lal Path Labs, which used to charge ₹4500 per test, has been charging ₹2400 since Friday. Medica Hospital brought down the test fee from ₹3900 to ₹2400. Suraksha Diagnostics slashed its price from ₹2800 to ₹2250.
The chief secretary also directed private hospitals not to pass on the entire cost burden of PPE, sanitizers and N-95 masks on the patients.
“Hospitals should share some of the burdens and become more patient-friendly,” Sinha said.
Some hospitals like Medica were charging ₹3000 per day as PPE cost from a patient, while some others were billing the patient for three to four PPEs per day at a rate of ₹1000 per PPE.
Following the prodding from the government, the hospitals said they would soon revise the treatment cost.
“Hospitals were already discussing how to further reduce the cost of treatment as directed by the state government,” said Rupak Barua, vice president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India (AHEI).
As the PPE and other safety paraphernalia are mainly spiking the treatment cost, the hospitals are contemplating to procure these items through the department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSMEs).
Meanwhile, the fair price medicine shops of the state’s health and family welfare department functioning in all government hospitals from Saturday started to sell PPEs, three-ply surgical disposable masks and reusable double-layered poplin masks.
The price of a hot sealing PPE has been fixed at ₹460 and cold sealing PPE at ₹430. The price of a reusable double-layered poplin mask is ₹17 and the three-ply surgical disposable mask is ₹4.
The hospitals were also asked to display every day the number of vacant beds for COVID-19 patients as there had been allegations of patients being refused admission.