PhilHealth to pay debt to Red Cross – Duterte
“But what I’m trying to say is we will pay. I will tell Sen. Gordon, because he heads the Red Cross, I will pay for it,” President Duterte said in his televised address.
STAR/File
PhilHealth to pay debt to Red Cross – Duterte
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte last night assured the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) that the debt incurred by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) would be settled.

PhilHealth owes the PRC some P930 million for the conduct of COVID-19 tests.

“But what I’m trying to say is we will pay. I will tell Sen. (Richard) Gordon, because he heads the Red Cross, I will pay for it,” Duterte said in his televised address.

“Money has always been a problem everywhere, especially in the government. We incurred expenses. We’re trying to make both ends meet,” he added.

Earlier, Sen. Bong Go said PhilHealth had agreed to settle its unpaid debts with the PRC, saying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), returning individuals, medical frontliners and others should not be further burdened with COVID-19 testing expenses.

Go, chairman of the Senate committee on health, said he is willing to mediate between PhilHealth and PRC to resolve the issue on unpaid services. He had spoken to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon and PhilHealth president Dante Gierran about the matter.

“I am ready to be your bridge to resolve this issue,” Go said during a hybrid public hearing of the Senate committee on health and demography on Senate Bill No. 1829 – Amending Section 13 of the Universal Health Care Act or the proposal to appoint the secretary of finance as chairn of the PhilHealth board of directors, while the secretary of health will remain as member of the board, as filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

He said it was agreed after meeting Sunday night with Medialdea, Gordon and Gierran that the Red Cross will be paid. “We just have to observe the process and this will be subject to government accounting and auditing rules. Services have been rendered, so they really should be paid,” Go noted.

Go said the Red Cross is a great help to Filipinos, especially with their 24/7 operations. “It is difficult if the Red Cross is stuck because the government does not pay. It is important not to delay service to the people, especially during the pandemic, every minute counts… The life of every person is also at stake here.

“So let’s just work together. Most importantly, let us always protect the interests of the people and the government. That is what President Duterte always told me,” he added. “Without favoring one side, what is faster, more convenient, safe and reliable COVID-19 test, that is what we will use.”

Gierran has assured the PRC of payment for its debt, which ballooned to P1.014 billion as of last week. “It’s not because we don’t want to pay. We want to pay, only that we have to clear some legal issues,” he said.

Go said the concern of PRC could be best addressed by SB 1829 to make the secretary of finance as the ex-officio chair of PhilHealth to have sustainable fund management.

“I also want to take this opportunity to call on PhilHealth to settle its obligations with the Philippine Red Cross in accordance with our laws. Just like this concern, this is an issue with proper handling and use of funds. That’s why it is important to bring in reforms in PhilHealth,” he noted.

“Just a reminder: our testing capacity should not be affected. We do not want to increase the burden of our compatriots who have to spend on COVID-19 testing, such as OFWs, returning individuals, medical frontliners and others. PhilHealth must work with the Red Cross, and pay what is due in accordance with the law,” he pointed out.

Go said the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the government to invest more in the healthcare system. While he acknowledged the efforts of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who currently sits as ex-officio chair of PhilHealth, Go said he is in favor of taking the needed reforms to address the issues hounding the corporation.

“This is not the first time PhilHealth has been involved in allegations. As of 2015, Blue Ribbon has been ruling over fraudulent claims. Every year, PhilHealth is being investigated for alleged anomalies,” he said.

Also during yesterday’s public hearing, Go presided over the discussion on proposals to upgrade 10 government hospitals and the establishment of three hospitals – in Pangasinan, in Bacolod and another in Davao Occidental to address the lack of appropriate facilities and equipment in some government hospitals.

Test results delay

Returning OFWs may have to wait for a day or two for the release of their swab test results instead of the less than 24-hour period, after the PRC stopped its COVID-19 tests because of the debt owed by PhilHealth.

In a statement, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) yesterday announced that since Oct. 15 they returned to manual pre-processing of swab samples collected by their one-stop shops at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals 1, 2 and 3 for returning OFWs.

By reverting back to manual pre-processing, it would take them a day or two to release the results of a returning OFW’s swab test, compared to the previous less than 24-hour automated pre-processing system used to release the swab test results.

The efficiency in releasing the swab test results, done via RT-PCR, was reportedly affected after PhilHealth failed to settle its debt to PRC, which has been the Coast Guard’s partner in testing the collected swab sample, a source said.

As a result of the accumulated debt, the PRC refused to process the swab tests taken from returning OFWs. The PRC earlier warned that it will stop conducting its tests until they are paid the P1-billion balance incurred by PhilHealth as of Oct. 6.

The PCG, through its Command Center, is once again tasked to provide RT-PCR test results, while the Bureau of Quarantine would handle coordination with all returning OFWs who would be declared positive of COVID-19.

‘Settle your debt’

“I appeal to PhilHealth to honor the agreement with the Red Cross. This is a huge blow to our country’s testing capacity and it is all because of the government agency’s failure to honor the contract,” Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas said.

Vargas said that with the Red Cross no longer conducting COVID-19 tests charged to PhilHealth, returning OFWs and government frontliners will have no choice but to pay for RT-PCR tests with other accredited testing centers.

“Let’s not burden them with the cost of testing. PhilHealth, please pay up,” he said.

Vargas said PhilHealth’s failure to settle its growing outstanding balance might also affect other programs of Red Cross, including disaster response.

“Like any other organization, Red Cross needs the funds for its many services and programs. These could be compromised by Philhealth’s failure to settle its obligations,” he said.

The humanitarian organization said that as of Oct. 13, it has billed PhilHealth P1 billion but P930 million remains unpaid, with the latter’s last payment made on Sept. 8.

The COVID-19 test fee of P3,500 is chargeable to PhilHealth, which should have been paid through a P100-million revolving fund that PhilHealth has failed to replenish. – Alexis Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

BONG GO PHILHEALTH PRC
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