PhilHealth releases P500 million as partial payment to Red Cross
PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran said the agency would speed up the processing of the remaining balance following “strict compliance to government accounting regulations.”
STAR/File
PhilHealth releases P500 million as partial payment to Red Cross
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) released yesterday P500 million in partial payment to the Philippine Red Cross for the swab tests the PRC conducted on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and frontliners.

PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran said the agency would speed up the processing of the remaining balance following “strict compliance to government accounting regulations.”

The PRC suspended its swab testing for OFWs on Oct. 15 due to the failure of PhilHealth to settle its debt amounting to P1.1 billion.

“The PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing with people’s lives. Its prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer,” Gierran said in a statement.

He added that PhilHealth’s “exercise of judiciousness is to protect the people and their funds.”

The PhilHealth has assured accredited laboratories conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on OFWs that it would fast-track the processing of its payments.

PRC chairman and Sen. Richard Gordon earlier said Gierran could be “delaying the payment” due to his fear to move around “snakes and jackals” in the agency.

“He is like a new guy on the block surrounded by snakes, jackals and hyenas. I think he is scared to move. That is one of the explanations with the delayed payments,” Gordon said. “I think he is afraid of who he will trust.”

Meanwhile, Migrante Philippines asked the government to dismantle the so-called “COVITeers” at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who are taking advantage of returning OFWs in need of swab tests.

The group said the administration should start giving free COVID-19 tests for OFWs.

Pandemic response crippled – OCTA

Pandemic response measures such as isolation, quarantine and contact tracing are effectively crippled without the testing facilities provided by the PRC, according to OCTA Research group.

The group urged the government to resolve the row that resulted in the decision of the PRC to suspend its testing services, which contribute around 30 percent of the country’s testing capacity.

“Without the testing facilities of the PRC, our isolation, quarantine and contact tracing programs are crippled because local government units do not know whether a person is infected with COVID-19 within the 24 to 48 hour period required,” read the OCTA report released on Monday night.

“Without the RT-PCR testing machines provided by the PRC, public health authorities and pandemic management teams are made blind because of less accurate information,” it added.

According to OCTA Research, an independent group of academic experts from the University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas, the lack of PRC testing resulted in a reduction of 40 to 50 percent in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in some areas.

In Metro Manila, for instance, data released by the Department of Health showed that there were 736 average daily new cases of COVID-19 from Oct. 18 to 24.

But with PRC accounting for an average of 38 percent of tests conducted in the region, the experts said the actual number could be higher by 200 to 300 cases.

OCTA said virus transmission could increase to 0.72 from the current 0.63 if the missing PRC data is taken into account.

“It must also be noted that while the number of new cases (based on testing) reported has been decreasing, these may not provide an accurate picture of the pandemic in the country as these do not include the PCR testing data,” read the report.

“Accurate testing information and increased testing capacity are crucial to managing the pandemic. It is against this backdrop that the government must ensure that the PRC resumes testing as soon as possible,” it added.

Malacañang, however, refuted the OCTA report that the suspension of PRC testing resulted in a 40 percent drop in daily screening output for Metro Manila.

“We disagree because not only the PRC can conduct swab tests,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

“We are not threatening anyone, but we have 115 PCR test facilities and 35 GeneXpert machines,” he said.

Roque said the government has been beefing up its testing capacity so as not to rely on just one group.

He also rejected the group’s observation that the easing of physical distancing rules in public transport may lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections.

Antigen, saliva tests

OCTA also urged the government to expedite the validation of nasopharyngeal antigen test and saliva testing for COVID-19.

“The inclusion of these game changing tests in our testing system will not just make testing less expensive and more time efficient, it will also hasten economic recovery as more workers can safely go back to work,” the group said.

It also reiterated its call for local government units, especially in high-risk areas, to further intensify testing, tracing and isolation to reverse the increase of transmissions at the community level.

These include Pasay, Makati, Pasig and Mandaluyong; Baguio and Itogon in Benguet; Calamba, Laguna; Angono, Cainta and Taytay in Rizal; Lucena, Quezon; Ilagan, Isabela; Batangas City and General Trias, Cavite.

Other high-risk areas include Iloilo City, San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, Davao City and Butuan City.

“We are concerned that these LGUs may experience high hospital burden in the coming weeks that may stress their healthcare systems and overwhelm their medical frontliners,” read the report.  – Christina Mendez, Janvic Mateo, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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