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This week people are talking about pre-departure COVID tests. You need one before flying out of the country but some travelers say the cost is outrageous. He argues that the companies that administer them need to govern.
Tim Segato is one of them. She and her husband are going to the UK to see their husband’s mother.
“It’s been a little over two years since we’ve seen her. Now that Canada is on the green list to visit the UK, we booked a trip to see her.
But the cost of doing so is high and not just for plane tickets.
“It’s $199 for us each.”
Segato is talking about the price they paid for the pre-departure COVID tests that are required for international travel.
There was a time when the province of Ontario used to pay for those tests but that ended in December of 2020.
“When the province phased out testing, he mentioned that it cost taxpayers $48 per test. Now that we have to pay for our own tests through private clinics, the cost seems to be just astronomical. It is,” Segato said.
So why the price disparity? Granthshala contacted the two largest private companies offering the test in Ontario. LifeLabs is one of them.
“The private model is very different from a publicly funded PCR testing program,” said Justin Bates of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.
“Each pharmacy or pharmacy organization privately procures the tests which is separate from the public program,” he said.
“PCR testing requires a contract with a laboratory facility and rapid testing requires a contract with the manufacturer of the tests. Service charges include the cost of testing, service provision and shipping costs, which are market driven.
But many argue that private testing companies are not losing money on the deal.
“Many companies have seen and taken advantage of such a scenario when people need something,” said Marty Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a travel insurance brokerage. He says there is no clear structure on what the tests cost.
“You want your test results in an hour, it could be $300, you want to wait a day. It’s too little. Not that the test is any more robust as opposed to a test that’s ready the next day. Gets ready in minutes. It’s, I hate to say, pay as you play,” Firestone said.
This is why many people like Segato are calling on the government of Ontario or Canada to step in and regulate these companies.
“When I was shopping for tests, I saw something upwards of $280 for a test. That kind of cost is just insane. I think the government can definitely see how much they can be charged for these tests.” There should be some kind of rule or cap on it, should be looked into,” he said.
The same thing happened in the UK in August. Following public outcry, the government began regulating private testing companies and reduced the cost of pre-departure COVID tests. Granthshala checked and so far there are no plans to do so here in Canada.
Granthshala also contacted all Members of Parliament serving on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Only one came back to us.
“The cost is exorbitant and must be regulated. We need national leadership to tackle this,” said MP Don Davis. But he did not say what he plans to change.
So why the silence? Firestone says the government’s approach is in line with the message.
“Our government is advising us to avoid all non-essential travel so you can argue why are they paying or deducting the cost for something that enables you to travel?” he said.
But travelers like Segato aren’t looking for a handshake, they just want some oversight.
“I completely agree that people traveling for pleasure should pay for the tests. It seems to me that if it is a government-mandated test then the province or federal government should regulate it,” he said. The rules should be enforced because I think some people are trying to capitalize on the ability to charge people for these tests right now.”
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