Red Cross resumes coronavirus tests sans full PhilHealth debt payment

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Red Cross resumes coronavirus tests sans full PhilHealth debt payment
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The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Red Cross resumed coronavirus testing on Tuesday night shortly after receiving from government a partial payment for its ballooning debt.

Diagnosis was first restarted for migrant Filipino workers coming home through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, while regular tests are eyed to continue on Wednesday, said Senator Richard Gordon, also Red Cross chair and chief executive. 

“I have requested the secretary general and all our laboratories in the country to open it to PhilHealth again,” Gordon said in an online briefing.

“We're ready to test all the people that we have not tested,” he added.

Hours before Gordon’s announcement, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. paid P500 million to Red Cross, barely half of the P1.1 billion in dues to cover the testing of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) outsourced to the health group. 

The payment, however, was below what was initially pledged— government vowed to pay in full— and came a day later than promised. Even before the partial payment was made after office hours, Gordon said Red Cross sent a letter to PhilHealth expressing disappointment over the agency’s arrears.

While Gordon said he would not set PhilHealth a deadline to settle the balance of P600 million, government will immediately be billed for future tests conducted by Red Cross to avoid a repeat of payment delays. On average, Red Cross testing accounts for 26% of daily coronavirus tests.

“We’re going to ask them to pay right away then the new tests within three days they get the bill,” he said, partly in Filipino. “We will no longer allow the balance to balloon to a huge amount.”

Testing plunged to a 3-month low over the past week to below the 30,000 tests a day target by government, a direct consequence of Red Cross’s exit. It was unclear however if there was a total testing stoppage since data showed that some tests from Red Cross were trickling down to the overall tally despite the funding woes.

The number of people getting diagnosed with the deadly disease also went down from typically over 2,000 a day to just about 1,500, partly due to the absence of Red Cross testing, OCTA Research team, a group of independent experts, had said.

On Tuesday, the Philippines tallied 1,524 new COVID-19 cases, including 14 deaths and 353 recoveries. Since February, 373,144 people were infected by the disease, 7,053 of whom died, while 328,602 recovered. 

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