The Indian Council of Medical Research, the country’s nodal body for coronavirus testing, has removed the price cap of Rs 4,500 for the real-time polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR tests, PTI reported on Tuesday. This came nearly two months after ICMR set an upper limit for testing at private laboratories in the country.

In a letter to all states and Union Territories on Monday, ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said Rs 4,500, which was the ceiling price fixed earlier to conduct the RT-PCR test, may not be applicable now. It is not clear what the pricing will be but states can now negotiate with the approved list of laboratories and fix the cost to conduct the coronavirus tests.

“Now, testing supplies are also stabilising and many of you have started procuring such kits from local market,” the letter said. “Due to varied options of testing materials/ kits including indigenous ones, the prices are becoming competitive and are undergoing reduction. In this backdrop and keeping in view the evolving prices of the testing commodities, the earlier suggested upper ceiling of INR 4,500 vide letter dated 17/3/2020 may not be applicable now and therefore all state governments/ UT administrations are advised to negotiate with private labs and fix up mutually agreeable prices for samples being sent by the government and also for private individuals desirous of testing by these labs.”

Bhargava also said that at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, there was a paucity of testing kits and India was heavily reliant on imported products, adding that no rates for RT-PCR test were available then. “Keeping in view the cost of imported kits and efforts involved in carrying out the test, ICMR suggested the upper limit of a single test as Rs 4,500 in a letter dated March 17,” he added.

The development came at a time when many private laboratories in the country have said that they are not able to recover expenses with Rs 4,500 as the upper limit of the test price.

On April 8, the Supreme Court of India directed the Central government to make testing for the novel coronavirus disease free of cost at approved private laboratories. Days later, on April 13, the court amended its order and ruled that free tests in private labs are only for people covered by the government’s flagship healthcare programme Ayushman Bharat, and any other category of economically weaker sections of the society as notified by the government. Private labs, the court clarified, could continue to charge for Covid-19 tests from individuals who could afford them. The price, however, could not exceed the upper limit set by the Indian Council for Medical Research: Rs 4,500.

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