PhilHealth to pay Red Cross debt on Monday
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
PhilHealth to pay Red Cross debt on Monday
( - October 24, 2020 - 9:23am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) said it will pay up its debt to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) on Monday after it received a legal opinion from the Department of Justice on the COVID-19 testing agreement between it and the humanitarian organization.

“PhilHealth will release payment on Monday, October 26, 2020, subject to completeness of billing requirements submitted by the PRC, and in compliance to COA (Commission on Audit) rules,” the state health insurer said in a statement.

PhilHealth did not mention how much of the more than P930 million balance it would settle, but said in a statement that its payment “should enable the PRC to immediately resume its testing of swab specimen of concerned sectors which PhilHealth pays for.”

Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon, who serves as PRC chairperson, rejected Friday the government’s proposal for PhilHealth to only pay half of its debt, saying that they would only restart COVID-19 testing if the state health insurer settles its balance in full.

Gordon said that the PRC would want to resume the testing, but it does not have enough funds to cover for the purchase of additional testing kits and the salaries of its workers.

He added that half of PRC’s medical technicians and half of its staff are no longer reporting to work due to the halt in COVID-19 testing.

Several problems have cropped up since the PRC decided to halt tests covered by PhilHealth, among them the stranding of thousands of returning overseas Filipino workers who are still quarantined in hotels and cannot go home without a negative result on a coronavirus test.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has said that this has doubled the costs for the government due to the extended stay of returning migrant workers in quarantine hotels.

The stop in testing also led to a three-month low in the country’s daily testing output, with the number of samples processed dropping to just 18,810 on October 18 — the lowest since July 12.

By number of people, 17,177 individuals were tested that day, the lowest since July 12. 

Before it decided to stop tests charged to PhilHealth, the PRC’s 10 labs screened 8,000 to 12,000 samples a day, accounting for 26% to 40% of the daily testing capacity. Now, Gordon said, they are just down to around 1,000 samples a day.

Back in February, ahead of the deadly virus spiraling into a pandemic, the government flaunted the Philippines’ low case tally as a success, only to be proven wrong later on as more testing centers were established and monitoring was improved. — Xave Gregorio

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