Red Cross rues testing labs’ greed

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

As I was rushing to meet my deadline for today’s column, I received the good news that Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) paid the Philippine Red Cross P500 million yesterday. That’s good news for people who depend on PhilHealth who can now get tested after Red Cross stopped testing them for COVID-19 on account of PhilHealth’s not paying its P1.1-billion debt to the humanitarian organization. The non-comforting news is that the state health insurer still owes the humanitarian organization P561 million.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who is chairman/CEO of PRC, continues to urge PhilHealth to pay the full amount. PRC is actually helping the government with its COVID-19 molecular laboratories. I don’t think he is happy with the partial payment, and will probably ask President Duterte to help urge PhilHealth to pay the full amount, as PhilHealth officials say they have the money to do that. Why they are money-pinching is a $64 dollar question.

PRC has ten molecular laboratories in the country. PRC has not closed any of these laboratories, but PhilHealth’s refusal to pay its debt forced PRC to turn down testing of people dependent on PhilHealth fees beginning Oct. 15; the facilities, including swab testing, evaluation and results of specimens, remained open to individuals who could pay the fees on their own.

PRC secretary general Liza Zaballa told me that in Manila, the usual testing process begins with swab tests performed by the Coast Guard on arrivals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and by the Philippine Interagency Task Force consisting of the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Bureau of Fire Protection at the Mall of Asia, the Iglesia ni Cristo headquarters in Bulacan and the Palacio ng Maynila. The swab specimens are brought to the three PRC molecular laboratories – at Port Area, the PRC headquarters and the Logistics Multi-Purpose building on EDSA-Boni Avenue. The PRC test costs P4,000, and the results are available from 24 to 48 hours, or one to two days.

PRC’s molecular labs have a total capacity of 42,000 tests a day, but so far, they are testing 9,000 to 11,000 a day. Testing of 10,000 persons means more than P35 million a day, Liza said. With the new PhilHealth-dependent persons to be tested, PhilHealth’s debt accumulates day by day.

At the NAIA, passengers choose testing laboratories, including the PRC, and are transported to OWWA-approved hotels where they wait online for the results before they are allowed to leave for their destinations.  When PRC stopped accepting specimens for testing, passengers had to choose private laboratories for their specimen testing. And that’s another trouble (aside from strict travel protocols observed in their points of departure) for the passengers.

Chairman Gordon saw how private laboratories at the airports have showed extreme greed. The absence of testing done by the PRC pushed COVID-19 test prices to shoot up, he said in a virtual meeting with reporters.

He said, “The lack of testing by the Red Cross has opened opportunities for private laboratories. Originally, they would charge passengers P4,500, now they are charging P10,000 if within 24 hours. If you want a shorter wait, you pay P20,000.”

Gordon presented screenshots of several complaints on social media regarding the prices of COVID-19 tests being offered at the airport. A complainant reported, “My sister paid P7,000 to get the results in 24 hours, but she waited beyond 24 hours and got it only after she expressed her rage at the personnel. For 12 hours, it costs P10k and for 6 hours, it costs P20K. One is also required to stay in a COVID hotel.”

Another message said, “If you want rapid testing you pay P12,500 and then you have to buy a new plane ticket because you didn’t catch your flight to the province. Even if you have paid the whole package. Sad. Plus hour hotel.”

Gordon decried the inconvenience of this racket. “The passengers miss their flights, they can’t go home immediately, they need to stay in hotels. This costs money. And there’s this ladderized type of charging. They’re taking advantage of the misery of people. That’s a mortal sin.”

Gordon says the government has to look into this anomalous situation.

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The Salas Golf Cup changed its event format for this year due to the pandemic. With the theme “Complete Healing from COVID-19,” this year’s staging will be 100 percent  virtual with the support of the event’s annual partners and sponsors.

“The pandemic will not stop us from organizing the Salas Cup which we have been successfully mounting every year since 2008,” said Forum president Benjamin de Leon. “While we cannot do it the way we used to, we are still gathering our supportive golfing friends virtually for a few hours of fun, talks and raffle. This is our way of saying thanks to our supporters and at the same time helping them stay safe during this critical period,” he added.

The Forum for Family Planning and Development is the lead organizer of The Salas Golf Cup, endorsed and supported by former president Fidel V. Ramos, an avid golfer himself who describes the event as a “worthy cause.”

Salas Cup makes it possible for The Forum to sustain its year-round advocacy operations in relation to population and development, reproductive health, family planning, gender equality and the like. It is safe to say that without the Salas Cup, it will be impossible for The Forum to operate.

“While this year’s fund-raising activity will be quite a challenge considering that there will be no media exposure during a golf tournament, we trust that our annual sponsors and donors will understand the present situation and the limitations of the event, thus will still continue to support the event’s cause,” Ben said.

The companies who have committed their support for this year’s 13th Rafael M. Salas Golf Cup that is scheduled for Nov. 13 include DKT Philippines, San Miguel Corporation, PAGCOR, Filinvest Development Corporation, Ayala Corporation, Marubeni Philippines, Team Energy, Lopez Group, Asia United Bank, Alpha One, SGV, San Roque Power Corporation, Land Bank, Meralco, among others.

Salas is remembered for dedicating himself to serving his people in various government posts. In the international community, he served as the first executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with the rank of undersecretary-general. Known as “Mr. Population,” he was dubbed as “the best administrator of his generation.”

For sponsorship inquiries and support, call The Forum at 8426 5484, 0917 517 8522 or email [email protected].

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Email: [email protected]

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