Palace: Government open to reassessing price caps on RT-PCR tests

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace: Government open to reassessing price caps on RT-PCR tests
A resident of Brgy. San Miguel in Taguig City undergoes swabbing for coronavirus testing on April 23, 2020.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The government is open to assessing the prices of COVID-19 tests to make them more affordable as the Philippines grapples with a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros called on the pandemic task force to make COVID-19 testing free and accessible as Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal were placed under the stricter Alert Level 3 due to a sharp increase in infections.

Groups like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) have also long been calling for free "mass testing", which the administration has taken to mean testing everybody. 

Last November, President Duterte ordered the health and trade departments to set and implement a price range for RT-PCR testing, citing the need to ensure that the public, especially those from low and middle income households, would have an "equitable access" to quality health care services.

The Department of Health last September set price caps of P2,800 for plate-based and P2,450 for GeneXpert for public laboratories. Testing at private laboratories was capped at P3,360 for plate-based and P2,940 for GeneXpert tests. But critics noted that the RT-PCR test remains unaffordable to ordinary Filipinos.

"Well, obviously, if the technology gets better and we're able to access that technology for here, for the Philippines, then we will do it," Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told ABS-CBN News on Tuesday when asked if there is a way to bring down the prices of RT-PCR tests.

"Perhaps you're right, maybe we can start assessing again the prices, although we went through that cycle, we went through cycles of putting those caps on the RT-PCR. So maybe, it can be something that we can explore again or the DOH (Department  of Health) can explore again," he added.

PhilHealth covers tests of people in hospitals

Nograles, also the spokesman of the government's pandemic task force, said the RT-PCR tests of persons admitted in hospitals are covered by state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

"If you're in the hospital, obviously, and then you get swabbed, then that's covered by PhilHealth. What is not covered is if you take an RT-PCR on your own, which some of us need to do for our protection, safety and also...especially if you have symptoms," the Palace official said.

Nograles urged those who have COVID-19 symptoms or who were exposed to infected persons to isolate themselves and to immediately have themselves tested.

"Treat it as if you have it, you have COVID, any symptoms. Do not report for work. Isolate yourself and then undergo testing immediately," he said.

"Let's try to protect everybody in our families, in our community, in our workplaces," he added.




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