Why Are COVID-19 Tests So Expensive at Hospitals?


A COVID-19 rapid test provided by your local government is usually free. But in some private hospitals, tests could fetch for P1,500 to as high as P6,500, which leads many people to ask why.

Before you jump to assumptions, you must know that these private hospitals are not overcharging you or taking advantage of the pandemic just to make fat profits. Here are the reasons why.


There are two kinds of COVID-19 tests in the Philippines right now.

Currently, there are two types of tests that doctors use to detect COVID-19.

The first test is the rapid test, which can cost you about P1,500 in premier hospitals in the country. These test kits can produce results in under an hour. This is the kind of COVID-19 test that the government is using. It is free in your local governments because the cost is subsidized.

The rapid test primarily detects antibodies such as IgG and IgM, which indicates you had COVID-19 and are probably immune to it as of testing time. It has a limitation because it does not reveal whether you have an active infection or not.

The second test is called the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test or RT-PCR test. This one is far more accurate and tells you whether you have an active infection at the moment. A RT-PCR test can cost you about P6,500 or more in premier hospitals in the country.

Why is the RT-PCR test so expensive?

The RT-PCR test is a nuclear-derived method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material from any pathogen, including a virus. It is relatively more expensive because of the scarcity and cost of resources and equipment used to run the test.


For starters, the RT-PCR test requires nuclear technology and nuclear energy to run. Secondly, the technology is not available in many countries and needs clearance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before you can use it. The IAEA is also the body that monitors nuclear weapons around the world. The Philippines is lucky to have a few hospitals that have RT-PCR testing at their facilities.

In the early years of RT-PCR, doctors made use of radioactive isotope probes to quantify the amount of target DNA in a sample. Today, real-time RT-PCR uses fluorescent probes instead.

The IAEA is currently assisting the Philippine government in conducting RT-PCR tests by pledging technology and resources to the country. The Philippines has been a member of the organization since 1958.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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