Although coronavirus PCR tests ordered by a GP, hospitals, or an epidemiological authority are still free, many have to request tests for themselves, for which people had to pay around HUF 30,000 up until Monday. From this week on, an official price for private coronavirus PCR tests were set at HUF 19,500 (EUR 54). As a consequence, some laboratories already ceased their testing services. Meanwhile, the opposition demands free testing for citizens, while Viktor Orbán again said that Budapest has enough resources to pay for the tests.
The official price of HUF 19,500 (EUR 54) for cost-effective PCR tests came into effect on Monday. According to the official coronavirus information website, almost 650,000 PCR tests have been performed in Hungary, most of them completely free of charge, at the expense of the state. For potential coronavirus infections, PCR tests ordered by a GP, hospitals, or an epidemiological authority are still free. Therefore, people only have to pay for the test if they decide that they want to do it themselves, or on return from abroad so they can avoid official home quarantine with 2 negative PCR tests. For this, healthcare providers may charge a maximum price of HUF 19,500, which includes the cost of sampling and testing, and no additional costs may be charged.
Before the prices were set at HUF 19,500 for coronavirus tests, in most places patients had to pay around HUF 30,000 for a PCR test, while in the case of testing on-site with delivered test kits, it may even cost as much as HUF 50-60,000. Some even reported prices as high as 80,000 HUF before the epidemiological authority priced the diagnosis of the virus at HUF 30,500.
Now with the maximization of the price of coronavirus tests, for many laboratories it is no longer worth it to offer the service. According to liberal news portal 24.hu, following PM Orbán’s announcement of set test prices, one of the laboratories already suspended public testing. The laboratory in question announced the news on Facebook, writing that “the management of our laboratory considers the health of our patients and staff, as well as the quality of work extremely important. At present, we cannot maintain this with regard to the official price of the PCR test, so we will suspend sampling for COVID-19.”
Although there are some other providers who suspended testing, such as PentaCore, Affidea, FirstMed, and DermaMedical, most private healthcare providers changed the price of their PCR tests to the set price, including Wáberer Medical Center, Róbert Private Hospital, Medicover, Kelen Hospital, Aniron Health Center, Swiss Clinic, The Buda Health Center, Dr. Rose, and Neumann Labs.
Many wrote that private healthcare providers previously set higher prices because of, among other things, strict working conditions that protect both patients and workers’ safety. Private providers performed 3,500-4,000 tests per day before, and this capacity may disappear due to the set price, as the amount only covers laboratory costs. According to leftist daily Népszava, private providers earned HUF 4-7,000 per test, and the laboratories had a margin of HUF 2-3,000. It also shows that with the maximum price, smaller laboratories are pushed out of the market, as at this cost, it is only worth taking on the task for those who do the laboratory work themselves and perform a sufficiently large number of tests per day.
Meanwhile, in a joint press conference on Monday, representatives of opposition parties demanded the widest possible free coronavirus testing. Ágnes Kunhalmi, Member of Parliament and co-president of the Socialist party, emphasized that although the government made testing ordered by a GP or in a hospital free of charge, in practice this often does not happen, because the GP will order quarantine rather than testing. She added that people had already paid the fee for the test several times, for example as a social security contribution or in the form of a tax.
LMP’s deputy group leader Márta Demeter, said that the estimated price for free testing is around HUF 35-40 billion, which she argues is still cheaper than the price of restarting the economy after the second wave hits the country. Demeter called the free test a civil right, citing as an example that testing a family of four costs as much as HUF 160,000. At the same time, many people are asymptomatic and can infect others even if there are no visible signs of the disease, which is why free testing is needed.
The issue of free testing also came up in parliament on the first day of the autumn session, where Viktor Orbán said that more than one hundred billion forints are available in Budapest, led by Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony, co-chair of the opposition Párbeszéd party (Dialogue). According to the Prime Minister, seeing the example set by London, Prague, or Vienna shows that cities everywhere help tourism businesses from their own budgets, and Budapest is the only exception. He argued that Budapest, with HUF 100 billion in resources could finance free testing as well. Although it was suggested several times by PM Orbán and the Hungarian State Treasury, Mayor Karácsony has previously refuted the fact that Budapest would have a hundred billion forints available.
featured photo: Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI