Red Cross halts PhilHealth-funded COVID tests over unpaid balance
A doctor shows the Natch RNA Extractor along with other new machines inside the newly inaugurated molecular laboratory of the Philippine Red Cross at the Port Area in Manila in June 2020.
The STAR/KJ Rosales

Red Cross halts PhilHealth-funded COVID tests over unpaid balance

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - October 15, 2020 - 3:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — The private organization conducting the most coronavirus tests in the country is halting its screenings funded by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. over the agency's failure to settle its overdue balance of over P930 million. 

The Philippine Red Cross' decision on October 14 is seen to affect many, including returning Overseas Filipino Workers and frontline medical and government workers, with the organization saying it will no longer receive specimens from them. 

Screening for those in mega swabbing and local government facilities, as well as individuals covered under the health department's expanded testing guidelines will also be suspended.

"The PRC does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its unlawful obligations," Red Cross said in a statement.

The organization has conducted over a million COVID-19 tests out of the country's more than three million screened for the deadly virus. 

RELATED: Private-run labs in Philippines have highest COVID-19 tests done

Tests, however, will continue for those who scheduled their screenings directly through them, private companies and groups, as well as local governments and other agencies with which the Red Cross has agreements and "whose payments are up to date."

PhilHealth's payment needed to buy more kits

The Red Cross said it needs PhilHealth's payments for buying test kits and reagents from China, which requires around $6 million per order. 

"The PRC cannot commit to these orders unless it has the finances to pay," the group said. "This is what makes PhilHealth's settlement of its outstanding obligations critical."

PhilHealth's failure to follow through with its obligations, Red Cross added, had resulted in total billings of more than P1 billion as of October 13, nearly P931 million of which is already. 

Palace officials at a press briefing said government is still trying to resolve the matter between Red Cross and PhilHealth, as they admit that the organization has a significant contribution to the country's testing capacity. 

"It is a big loss if Red Cross stops its PhilHealth-funded tests but we all know that the PhilHealth has its internal problems. We apologize to the PRC on behalf of the president," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said. 

Its chairman, Sen. Richard Gordon, had also met with PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran, who requested that Red Cross lowers its test fee from P3,500 to about P3,400. 

But, Red Cross said the request from PhilHealth came early October with no mention of any payment to come. 

The humanitarian organization, which also responds to disasters, warned that its response, as well as lives, will be affected should its finances be compromised. 

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