By Purushottam P. Khatri Kathmandu, Sept. 19: Disregarding the government decree to charge only Rs. 2,000 for COVID-19 swab test, some private hospitals and laboratories in Kathmandu Valley are found charging higher amounts for Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests. When approached on the issue some patients and hospital officials conceded that some private hospitals were charging Rs. 4,400 for the PCR test with additional Rs. 50 for registration if any new patient is admitted to private hospitals. National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) under the Department of Health Services of the Ministry of Health and Population has given permission to conduct PCR tests to 15 private hospitals out of 48 total approved test centres, including some laboratories, across the country. Of the 15 private hospitals and labs, 11 are providing COVID-19 tests within the Kathmandu Valley, Rajesh Kumar Gupta, medical technologist and communication officer at NPHL, Teku, said. On July 1, the government had, for the first time, decided to give permission to the private hospitals and advanced lab centres to conduct the tests of the virus, and during that time, only three hospitals were given permission and the numbers as of Friday has reached 48. Initially, the government had set the price of single PCR test at Rs. 5,500, and later it was reduced at Rs. 4,400. After September 13, the government had ordered all private and government hospitals to charge only Rs. 2,000 for the virus test. But, defying the government order to charge only Rs. 2,000, most of the private hospitals and laboratories have been found charging Rs. 4,400 citing reasons that they can provide the results of the test within 10-12 and 48 hours. This Daily has received evidence that some private hospitals in Kathmandu were found charging high price than the rate fixed by the government. Also, when this Daily further went to confirm about the incidents, several hospitals like Nepal Mediciti Hospital, Nakkhu, Star Hospital, Sanepa, B&B Hospital, Gwarko, Central Diagnostic Laboratory and Research Centre, Kamalpokhari, and Hospital of Advanced Medicine and Surgery (HAMS), Dhumbarahi, Kathmandu,
were the few hospitals which had been charging the higher rates. Prakash Bhattarai, administrator at B&B Hospital, said that the private hospitals were forced to charge Rs. 4,400 as the new rate fixed by the government could not be sufficient even to meet the operation cost of their lab, which needs reagent and other things while conducting the lab test of the collected swabs. "There is also a matter of personal safety, security, and allowances that the hospitals have to provide to the lab officials, who have been dedicating their time and life for long hours," Bhattarai said. "Private hospitals have also forwarded a separate proposal to review the decision and fix the price in between Rs. 3,800, but the government is not listening to us," Bhattarai said. During further confirmation about the test charge, Kathmandu Medical College, Sinamangal, Bidh Lab, Kupandole, were, however, found to be charging only the government rate. Meanwhile, a patient of COVID-19 who had gone to have her PCR test at HAMS this week, on condition of anonymity, complained that the hospital charged Rs. 4,400 for the test although she asked about the latest government decision and its implementation. "I was compelled to pay high price after the hospital said that their hospital had not received any information and circular from the government, and was later told to go to other hospital which charged just Rs. 2, 000," she said. Roshan Adhikari, marketing executive and social welfare at HAMS, said the hospital could not perform the PCR tests in the government fixed rate as it could not even meet the minimum operation cost of the lab. "We have been using US-certified reagent for testing the swab and other advance technologies to assure quality and give uncompromising result by ensuring cent per cent conformity," he said. Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson at Ministry of Health and Population, said the government, through public forum and live television programme and by issuing circulars, had instructed them to charge only Rs. 2,000 for the test. "We do not have the right to fine and take action against such hospital, and it is now the responsibility of Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumer Interests under the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies to monitor and fine them for violating the government order," Dr. Gautam said. Netra Prasad Subedi, Director General at the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumer Interests, said the Department can monitor the hospitals charging higher fees for PCR test in the presence of officials from the Ministry of Health and Population. "If people or victims, who have felt they have been cheated by the hospitals while receiving COVID-19 tests, they can file complaint against such hospitals with proofs," DG Subedi said. "If such thing is happening, we can call them to the Department along with hospital's files and documents for taking legal actions, he said. Based under available facts and bill voucher, we can immediately stop them from doing so or may fine them as per the black marketeering law, he added. The act has a provision of charging fine up to 20 per cent in the rate fixed by the government, he said. "We are committed to taking action against such hospitals if the Department receives complaints along with cash voucher," Subedi said.