Drilon earlier revealed that the complete cost structure of the package showed questionable expenses which, if removed, could bring down the cost by more than half.
Senate PRIB/Joseph Vidal, File
Drilon welcomes PhilHealth test kits’ lower prices
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon yesterday welcomed the decision of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to reduce the price of its COVID-19 test package by 50 percent, but insisted that the agency should peg the price lower.

PhilHealth scaled down the price of its COVID-19 test package from P8,150 to P4,210 following public uproar over the overpriced package led by Drilon, who questioned the high price while fearing a potential loss of around P8.3 billion of taxpayers’ money.

“If COVID-19 tests could be done for as low as P3,500 as proven by Red Cross, which emerged as the lead testing center for COVID-19, then there is no justification for the higher rates set by PhilHealth,” he said in a statement.

Drilon earlier revealed that the complete cost structure of the package showed questionable expenses which, if removed, could bring down the cost by more than half.

“Why would the PhilHealth have different prices for the same test? I am glad that PhilHealth listened to us… This is a victory for better governance and anti-corruption drive. Our triumph has proven that our collective voice is stronger than ever. It is critical to be more vigilant against corrupt practices during the time of a pandemic,” he said, noting that the test kit could be purchased for as low as $15 or P750.

Even with the new rate of P4,210, Drilon still fears that the government will face a potential loss of P1.4 billion for the targeted two million tests. 

“PhilHealth should look at lowering it to P3,500 or perhaps even lower. I have heard that some institutions can do it as low as P2,000. This should be a lesson to PhilHealth and the government in general: we are watching you,” Drilon said.

He also doubted the claim of PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales, during the Senate committee of the whole hearing on the global pandemic, that no actual payments were made to hospitals and testing centers. 

He cited a press release posted in the agency’s website that said PhilHealth downloaded P30 billion last March to its accredited hospitals “to help them respond to the onslaught of COVID-19 in the country.” 

The amount, which used its interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), is equivalent to three months’ worth of claims based on historical data, which will be charged to their future claims, he said. 

“IRM is a ‘prepaid’ system. Before this latest development, accredited hospitals were already charging to the downloaded fund the cost of testing at a price tag of P8,150,” Drilon added.

Meanwhile, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) defended the purchase of supposed “overpriced” extraction machines, saying it would be the “most favorable and practical option” for the government in the long run.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, during the hearing of the Senate committee of the whole on the pandemic response, questioned why the Department of Health ordered the acquisition of the Thermo Scientific King Fisher Flex automated nucleic acid extraction machine worth P4 million when Project ARK was able to purchase the same for only P1.75 million.

RITM chief Celia Carlos said in a statement yesterday that the compatibility between instruments, kits and reagents is critical in ensuring that the process could be performed properly and without errors. ?“An extraction machine classified as an open system is more advantageous in view of their adaptability with other reagent brands,” Carlos said, pointing out that the questioned brand is an open system that is compatible with various bead-based extraction kits used for an assortment of downstream applications.

The machine also reportedly extracts nucleic acid with high levels of purity, making it viable for protocol of any polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with any brand of PCR kits and machines.?“This will prove to be the most favorable and practical option for the government in the long term. Whereas, if the government purchases a cheaper, non-open system and its supplies run scarce, we will not be able to utilize that equipment at all,” the director said.

“Standardization of implemented protocols is a global good clinical laboratory practice as well, primarily among international laboratory networks where RITM has long been a respected participant,” she said.

“The RITM molecular biology staff are highly familiar and proficient in the use of the proposed automated extraction machines, which can yield pure nucleic acids from 96 samples in an hour.

This poses a great benefit for subnational laboratories where RITM technologists can readily provide technical assistance and expert opinion in using and maintaining the equipment,” she added.

On the rapid antibody testing kits, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) assured the public that its position against their use was thoroughly studied.

PMA president Jose Santiago Jr. said the pronouncements of the group and its medical allies “were vetted and discussed extensively by topnotch specialists in their field of endeavor.” Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Sheila Crisostomo 

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