Current health regulations require all passengers to submit a negative COVID-19 test before boarding an international flight. The test must be taken no less than 72 hours before departure, with no exemptions.
Getting checked in time is a hassle, but more importantly, it costs passengers a heavy price.
As provincial public health systems are overwhelmed, governments have found it convenient to outsource pre-departure tests to private companies with licensed laboratory services.
This, in principle, makes sense. People who have symptoms can get tested at a provincial testing facility free of charge, and those who want to travel for leisure or business will have to pay for the test out of their own pocket.
But when it comes to pricing, there was no government oversight in the market – and with limited competition, some players are charging outrageous fees for tests.
A family of five traveling abroad from Canada, for example, could face up to $2,000 in additional costs for COVID-19 tests if care is not taken to book a pre-boarding test at a lab that charges a reasonable price. may be required. Last minute one.
Most countries require travelers to submit PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results. Briefly, PCR testing is a method of copying a small sample of genetic material – a swab from the nose or throat – to see if the virus is present in that sample. Some countries, among them the US and UK, are accepting an antigen test, which is cheaper to procedure.
In order to be licensed to offer COVID-19 testing to travelers, private laboratories will have to go through a rigorous approval process. But once approved, the pricing is entirely up to their discretion.
A group of researchers from McGill University recently published an academic article that speculates Marginal cost A standard laboratory-processed PCR test, which takes up to eight hours to process, is $34. Labs must add up the costs of overhead, equipment, rent, utilities and shipments. Therefore, charging $100 for a standard PCR test should cover all costs and generate a decent profit.
But most private labs want more.
Biron Health Group will charge you $199. will charge $149 if you need results within 24 hours, and “only” $149 to get results within 48 hours. Shoppers Drug Mart is charging with 1,300 locations nationwide $158 in Alberta, $170 in Ontario and Saskatchewan . in $221 (including tax). And if you have chosen White Cap Medical located in Vancouver, prepare to pay $252.
These are exorbitant charges, but they must fork out at the airport for a so-called “rapid or express PCR test” with results within an hour, compared to passengers who wait until the last minute.
At Montreal’s Trudeau Airport, the Biron Health Group, which describes itself as “A company with a human dimension that takes its role in the community to heart,” charge $299 For a rapid PCR test with results in an hour.
And near Toronto’s Pearson Airport, FH Health, a licensed lab with 15 locations in the GTA, will bump you up with a Outrageous $395 (in taxes) for the “Express” trial.
Jan Eric is the CEO Lilium Diagnostic, which is offering only the standard (not rapid) PCR test for $99 – the lowest price in the industry.
Eric McGill agrees with the researchers’ estimate that the marginal cost of reagents and raw materials for a standard PCR test is about $35. But he highlighted that express testing is more expensive for laboratories. “I’ve seen it cost upwards of $100,” he tells me in a phone interview.
However, $100 is not $299 or $395. How can firms justify an extremely high price for rapid tests?
In an emailed statement, Biron spokeswoman Anne Gauthier highlighted additional elements explaining the higher fee ($299) such as “labour constraints” and “costs associated with setting up infrastructure for on-site testing at the airport.” proper score.
But Gauthier also referred to the “market reality” and said that “COVID tests are affected by the same market regulations as other consumer products.”
In other words, as long as competition is limited (Biron is the only company at Trudeau Airport that offers testing – basically a monopoly), and there is no government oversight (there isn’t), Biron can charge whatever it wants. (It does) .
The same reality exists in Ontario. Despite high testing prices, Ontario health ministry spokesman Bill Campbell sees no room for government intervention.
“The government has no role in setting or suggesting prices for private testing in Ontario. It is at the discretion of the provider to determine the cost of their services,” he wrote to me in an emailed statement.
This is where the Competition Bureau should play a role.
In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into the COVID-19 testing market. NS British watchdog said It is exploring “whether there are structural problems in the market for PCR tests affecting price or reliability, and whether there are any immediate actions the government can take.”
Our competition bureau should do the same and send a clear warning message to opportunistic private labs: The party is about to end. Political leaders should do the same. Setting a maximum value for PCR tests is also an option.
Eric of Lilium Diagnostic tells me that many customers ask him “what’s the catch,” or “do they provide poor service.” It tells you how strange the case is when a company is charging a fair value.
Hopefully other players will follow Lilium’s lead. But if not, it is up to regulators to put an end to the COVID-19 testing mess that is making private labs millions on travellers’ backs.