Jun 14, 2020, 06:00 IST

Covid testing rates charged by private laboratories slashedMore than two lakh people have been tested for Covid-19 in the city so far ()Cost of a test for which swab sample is collected from home is down to Rs 2,800 from Rs 4,500

In a big relief to thousands of citizens who want to get a Covid-19 test done, the state government on Saturday reduced testing rates charged by private labs. The charges for Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests at private labs for samples collected at home will be Rs 2,800 per sample, down from Rs 4,500. For bulk collection of samples from government isolation centres or private hospitals, where the swabs have already been taken, the cost will be Rs 2,200 per test.

State Health Minister Rajesh Tope made the announcement on Saturday after the new rates were recommended by a committee set up to revise the cost of Covid-19 testing.

State Health Assurance Society CEO Sudhakar Shinde headed the committee. Over the last week, Shinde had held detailed negotiations with private labs before revising the cost of testing. Shinde spoke to over a dozen labs to negotiate prices and ensure that testing becomes affordable.

According to a senior state government official, the cost will be Rs 2,200 for samples collected at government centres or hospitals. Here, the swabs are not taken by private labs. However, if you call the private lab at home for collection of samples, a test will cost Rs 2,800.

Earlier, each test cost Rs 4,500. Last week, top private labs such as Thyrocare had offered to do the test for as low as Rs 2,000. Medical experts and opposition parties had demanded that the government and the BMC invite tenders for Covid-19 testing. If this is done, they say, with competitive bidding, rates can come down to around Rs 2,000 per test, which is half of what the people are are paying now. In a letter to Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Chahal, Thyrocare, which is one of the largest private testing labs for Covid-19, said that it can test swabs collected by the BMC at Rs 2,000 per sample and if the swabs are collected by Thyrocare technicians, the cost will be Rs 2,500 per test.

Tope said that labs can’t charge more than Rs 2,200 for collecting the swabs through viral transport media from hospitals, while it would cost Rs 2,800 for collection of swab from home. Tope said the lowering of rates for the tests would provide a relief to the people. The revised rates are the maximum these labs can charge. District collectors can negotiate with private labs to reduce the rates further, Tope said. “If the private labs charge more than the prescribed upper limit, legal action would be taken against them,” he said, claiming that the new rates will be the lowest in the country. The minister said that at present, there are 91 labs in the state for Covid-19 testing and about four to five are in the pipeline.

Mumbai City Guardian Minister Aslam Shaikh, too, has written to Shinde asking him to call for tenders and fix the testing rate according to the lower bidder. According to BMC data, private and public hospitals conduct around 6,000 tests each day in the MMR. Mumbai has so far tested more than 2 lakh people. It has over 16 laboratories.

BJP MLA Ameet Satam, who had written to the state government about testing rates, demanded that the rates be revised every month. “We welcome the decision to reduce the cost, but we urge the government to revise the rates every month,” Satam said.

Congress MLA Amin Patel also asked the government to revise the prices regularly so that they can be reduced further.