Clear confusion over ceiling price set for Covid-19 tests, says MMA

20 Jun 2021 / 17:22 H.

PETALING JAYA: The government has indicated that the ceiling price of various Covid-19 tests have been set and the public can have the comfort of knowing the maximum rate that one would have to pay for those tests.

This was gazetted through an order signed by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on May 17 using the 2021 Emergency Ordinance.

However, the signed order and subsequent statements made by the Ministry of Health about this order have brought about much confusion rather than clarity on the matter, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Prof Datuk Dr. Subramaniam Muniandy said today.

“The order signed by the Prime Minister was addressed to the ‘licence holders’ of 24 laboratories listed in the appendix that came with that order. In Malaysia, private laboratories currently operate using a business licence and adhere to certain requirements to obtain Standard Malaysia and Ministry of Health accreditation, on top of ISO certification,” he said in a statement.

“It is worth noting that although the Pathology Laboratory Act 2007 has been gazetted many years ago, it has yet to be enforced. What this would mean is that, as of today, no laboratory would be in possession of an operating licence issued under this act and neither would there have been a call for them to apply for the same.

“So, what kind of licence is the order signed by the Prime Minister referring to? And since the order specifically applies to the 24 laboratories listed in the appendix, does this mean that any new laboratory set-up after that date is not bound by the order until a revised one is released?”

Subramaniam asked if the ceiling price only apply to the laboratory testing component of the Covid-19 screening

The screening process has two components. First is the process of collecting a sample from the patient and following that, laboratory processing of that sample.

It must be stressed that laboratories are only allowed to process Covid-19 samples received from registered or licensed private healthcare facilities, he pointed out.

“The MOH has clearly stated that in the private sector, only certain qualified and trained personnel from either a medical clinic, ambulatory care centre or hospital can take a Covid-19 screening sample from a patient.

“Clearly there are significant costs involved in both components. The private healthcare facility would have to factor in cost of consultation, price of the test-kit, operation overheads and cost of consumables such as gloves, apron, and other personal protective gear. The laboratories in turn would also incur various costs to undertake the processing of specimens.

“Both components are equally important and would need to be done following stringent standard operating procedures to yield high quality results,” Subramaniam added.

Conducting this procedure at off-site locations and additional logistical arrangements for collection of samples from remote areas are examples of some miscellaneous costs. Urgent samples would also incur a premium.

Besides that, the price of procuring test-kits and consumables also vary markedly as suppliers would often only be keen to lower their price for large orders or those made by their preferred customers. This certainly puts smaller healthcare facility operators at a disadvantage, he said.

“The signed order has set the ceiling price for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test at RM150, RTK-Antigen test at RM60 and RTK-Antibody test at RM50 in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 200, RM80 and RM70 respectively in Sabah and Sarawak.

“Clearly these rates are too low to represent a fair value that compensates the total cost and effort involved during both components of this procedure. It needs to be stressed that there are many factors that contribute to the overall cost of the procedure,” he said.

Subramaniam said any attempt to set a lower ceiling price just to make it affordable to the public would have disastrous consequences. The last thing we need is for any party to be forced to compromise on safety or quality just to rationalise the cost of the procedure to be within a predetermined cap, he pointed out.

“Therefore, MMA hopes that MOH will be able to make it clear once and for all that the price ceiling that has been set for the Covid-19 screening procedure only applies to the cost of the laboratory testing component of that procedure.

“The public should not be misled to believe that those rates are reflective of the maximum price they would be paying for the whole procedure when they visit a private healthcare facility,” he added.

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