MMA urges govt to clarify Covid-19 testing prices, to maintain quality and safety

·4-min read
The Malaysian Medical Association emblem is seen at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur November 13, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
The Malaysian Medical Association emblem is seen at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur November 13, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — The Malaysian Medical Association has asked the Health Ministry to clarify the ceiling pricing for various Covid-19 tests, as there has been a great deal of confusion.

Its president Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the association hopes the ministry will make it clear that the price ceiling set for the Covid-19 screening procedure only applies to the cost of the laboratory testing component of that procedure.

“The government has on numerous instances indicated the ceiling price of various Covid-19 tests has been set, and that the public can have the comfort of knowing the maximum rate that one would have to pay for those tests,” he said in a statement.

Noting that this has been gazetted through an order signed by the Prime Minister on May 17, using the 2021 Emergency Ordinance, Dr Subramaniam said the confusion which has arisen focuses on two key issues.

“Firstly, the order signed by the Prime Minister was addressed to the ‘licence holders’ of 24 laboratories listed in the appendix that came with it.

“In Malaysia, private laboratories currently operate using a business licence and adhere to certain requirements to obtain Standard Malaysia and Health Ministry accreditation, on top of ISO certification,” he said.

Adding that the Pathology Laboratory Act 2007 still remains to be enforced despite many years since its gazettement, Dr Subramaniam said this meant at present no laboratory would be in possession of an operating licence issued under the 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?” he said.

The second issue is whether the ceiling price applies to the laboratory testing component of the Covid-19 screening or otherwise.

“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 licenced private healthcare facilities.

“The ministry 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,” Dr Subramaniam said.

As there are significant costs involved in both components, private healthcare facility must factor in the cost of consultation, price of the test-kit, operation overheads and the 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.

“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,” he said.

Dr Subramaniam said 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, which in turn puts smaller healthcare facility operators at a disadvantage.

“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.

As such Dr Subramaniam said that any attempt to set a lower ceiling price just to make it affordable to the public would have disastrous consequences, since the last thing needed 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.

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