COVID-19 anxiety and cures

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2021 - 12:00am

World attention has riveted to India and epidemiologists now project as many as 500,000 daily reported cases and a million dead from the novel coronavirus by August. For over a week now, daily reported cases have been over 300,000, with oxygen supply running out for those who need intensive care. Deaths have been piling up.

The Philippines, too, has had its share of mortifying news a few weeks after the government eased quarantine restrictions, enough for more people to resume going to work while not enforcing enough strict public and workplace health safety measures.

Compared to India, our anxieties of breaching 10,000 reported cases and several hundred deaths a day seem trivial. Yet, during those two weeks when caseloads were highest, the weight of that barrage of kin and friends getting sick – or worse, dying – seemed too heavy to bear.

Imagining how people in India now feel tugs at my heartstrings, and I commiserate with the tens of millions there who are suffering because of this pandemic.

With our infection rates dropping once again, the government must consider further relaxing quarantine rules by putting in place more stringent back-to-work precautions. Too many are going hungry, more are grappling with reduced incomes, and the damage to the economy has further deepened.

We don’t want to get sick or die of the virus, but neither do we want to starve.

PhilHealth’s rejoinder

As we regularly feature readers’ views on issues of the day, some don’t always sit well with other people or institutions. Such is the case of one who had called PhilHealth to task over an alleged inability to reimburse testing fees for COVID-19.

PhilHealth issued a rejoinder signed by Rey T. Baleña, vice president of PhilHealth’s Corporate Affairs Group, which we feature below. Please read on.

“This is with regards to your article ‘Alternatives to long ineffective lockdown’ published last March 25 in the Philippine Star. Allow us to give our side on one particular issue concerning PhilHealth coverage of COVID-19 testing mentioned by one of your readers Mr. Felino C. Torrente.

“In particular, Mr. Torrente said ‘And if it is given without cost to individuals, PhilHealth reimburses the testing laboratories, but PhilHealth can hardly pay. Ask the Red Cross or Sen. Dick Gordon.’

“We take exemption from Mr. Torrente’s assertion that ‘PhilHealth can hardly pay the testing laboratories.’ As of March 26, 2021, PhilHealth had already paid almost 1.4 million COVID-19 testing claims filed by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) amounting to over P4.2 billion. Currently, a little over 181,000 PRC claims are in process.

“The reason why there are claims that are not being paid – be it of PRC or other testing labs – is primarily because these are not compliant to our rules and therefore not fit for payment. Please be reminded that PhilHealth, as a state insurer, is governed by auditing rules of the Commission on Audit.

“It is never our intention not to pay claims submitted by our health partners, rather, we take due diligence in managing our funds entrusted to us by our members, Mr. Torrente included.”

Getting more vaccines

For people who believe that the timeline for a safe reopening of the economy equates to how fast vaccinations against COVID-19 are dispensed, vaccine supply and vaccination hesitancy are two major issues that need to be hurdled.

Vaccine procurement is a tricky issue mired by legal roadblocks even for companies willing to shoulder the full cost of importing enough vaccines for all of their consenting employees. This explains why to date, vaccine orders by the business sector have not come in yet despite earlier pronouncements by the President to relax importation permits.

But even if all interested companies were to have their employees vaccinated by the third quarter of the year, the total number would not significantly chip away at the target of getting 70 million people of the country’s total population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

The country’s vaccine czar, Carlito Valdez Jr., had expressed early this year an aspiration for the government to buy 148 million vaccine doses that would be dispensed within 2021. This has turned out to be an ambition not realistically grounded on a government’s willingness to shell out the funds to buy the vaccines.

So far, of the 3.5 million vaccine doses the government has received, only two million were purchased with state funds on special rates. Signed and sealed deals have been far too few, an indication that supports a government hesitancy to pay for vaccines.

From Lily Galace, one of our more avid readers, is this view: “I believe large businesses should put a lot of pressure on the government to allow them to import vaccines, not just for employees, but even for profit. If the government sincerely wants to contain the virus, and vaccines is a key, private firms should be allowed to import.

“I do not understand why the government should put roadblocks to private importers when it is very clear they are unable to do an acceptable job themselves. Congratulating themselves for bringing in one million doses for a population of more than a 100 million is pathetic.

“I am a senior citizen, I want the best for my health, and I am willing to pay a premium for a vaccine I am comfortable with. I am on the priority list, but I would rather pay to have a choice.”

We’ll discuss vaccine hesitancy in another column.

Facebook and Twitter

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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