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Medical labs say COVID test model ‘unsustainable’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Medical laboratories have warned the Government they cannot continue providing COVID-19 tests unless it alters the “unsustainable” model by which they are paid via the Bahamas health travel visa.

Bonnie Culmer, chief executive/laboratory administrator at Bonaventure Medical Laboratory, told Tribune Business the industry had agreed to accept a “nominal” $8 per test fee and not seek to make it a profit centre “in the national interest” when the pandemic was at its peak and hundreds of daily tests were required.

Now that testing volumes have sharply decreased in the wake of the Omicron variant’s dissipation, she said medical laboratories believe the only financially-viable structure moving forward is to “cut out the middleman” of the health travel visa and “get the Government out of the laboratory business” by having all visitors requiring a COVID test to return home pay them the $23 rapid antigen test directly.

Ms Culmer said the industry, via the Bahamas Association of Medical Technologists (BAMT), had recently put its concerns to deputy prime minister, Chester Cooper, who has ministerial oversight for the health travel visa via the Ministry of Tourism, and a “follow-up meeting” to determine if any action will be taken is awaited.

Mr Cooper could not be reached for comment before press time last night via phone, and no response was received despite a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office saying this newspaper’s inquiries would be relayed to the deputy prime minister. Medical industry sources, meanwhile, speculated whether the Government was going to follow other countries in doing away with COVID testing mandates, with the US expected to do so in the near future.

“The situation with the COVID testing is with the health travel visa,” Ms Culmer told this newspaper. “The health travel visa is selling a testing voucher [to tourists], and paying the labs a nominal fee of $8 per test.

“Our argument is that if the five-day test is no longer required, and persons come into the country and need to be tested, they should come to the lab and pay the $20-$23 fee - even up to $30 - direct to the lab instead of [the health travel visa administrator] collecting the fee for us and paying us a nominal sum. Stop getting into the laboratory business.

“They’re trying to stay relevant by offering vouchers to the tourist. We’re saying you don’t need to be getting into the lab business and collecting a fee upfront. It’s like someone trying to sell a tourist a voucher to purchase something from the Straw Market, collecting the full payment and paying the straw vendor a nominal sum,” she continued. “We don’t need a system where someone is selling a voucher and paying us a nominal fee. It’s not doing us any favours.

“Let the labs collect the fees. Let the tourists come to us or we go to them. We don’t need a middleman to collect the funds and get paid a nominal fee for the service. They pay you $8 for the test, and don’t value the fact that we have to have quality systems in place. It is not enough. There’s more that goes into a charge than just swabbing a patient.

“We’re trying to maintain staff and the quality of testing in the lab. We have so many doing testing who are not qualified. We’ve heard reports of people doing testing in their kitchen. Now we have the serious situation [with COVID-19] under control, we’re saying let’s get back to the lab standards and quality we want.”

Ms Culmer, revealing that BAMT members sacrificed the profit motive to conduct widespread testing and results analysis at COVID’s peak, said: “All of the labs got together, accepted it when it first started as it was of national importance, and said we will not make a profit.

“But it’s now not sustainable for us as labs. We have to maintain the quality of standards in The Bahamas. We are among the top in quality standards in the region, but it’s been watered down a lot because of the pandemic. Everybody has popped up to do testing. We had to accept what was going on and work with, and accept the nominal fee. It was part of our tourism economy.

“Now we’re past that, and the tourism economy is coming back, and we don’t need that system in place... We did have a talk with the deputy prime minister, the lab association. We did share our concerns with him. We’re waiting on a follow-up meeting to see if any action will be taken to address the situation.”

Another healthcare provider, speaking on condition of anonymity, backed Ms Culmer’s position. “We’re the ones being shafted, the healthcare providers,” they added of the “nominal” fee. “With the volume decreases, and the number of tests falling regularly, it becomes more difficult to maintain your viability. When you had 100 tests per day, versus 50 to 20 now, it is difficult because it costs the same because of the staff needed to do the tests.

“They [the Government] have to address it. They cannot just ignore it. The healthcare providers said it is not sustainable for us. We have to come up with a different model. Maybe the Government is banking on testing going away. Maybe that’s what the Government is waiting for - for us to discontinue testing rather than having to deal with the issue.”

Comments

M0J0 4 months, 3 weeks ago

doctors hospital millions now make them want to see the same profit, greed is all I can say and if u agreed before what is the big problem now if test also still protect the population as a whole.

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tribanon 4 months, 3 weeks ago

THERE'S NO END TO THE INSATIABLE GREED OF ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN AND SEEK TO CONTINUE THEIR PROFITEERING OFF OF THE CHINA VIRUS. GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO IMMEDIATELY DO AWAY WITH ALL OF THE DAMN TESTING, PERIOD!

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newcitizen 4 months, 3 weeks ago

The labs were covering their costs at $8 a test, and now they expect to be getting $15 more in profit? Almost a 200% markup!

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ThisIsOurs 4 months, 3 weeks ago

It may be possible that the volume made the difference. At higher volumes the tests were probably cheaper to purchase so the 8 dollars may have covered costs. I cant see them doing the service and absorbing costs of thousands of tourists.

Whats hard to understand is why theyre holding on to this as a revenue generator. Did they expect the pandemic to last forever? There must have been some strategic planning for back to normalcy... right?

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