QUEZON City Rep. Alfred Vargas on Friday called on the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to prioritize the payment of its P1-billion debt for coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) testing to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) as more returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) become stranded in Metro Manila due to testing delays.
Vargas said Philhealth should come up with a “gentleman’s agreement” with PRC on how it will settle its debt.
“Philhealth should show the Red Cross it is capable of paying its debt by drawing up an agreement where the date of payment is set. I believe Red Cross officials are reasonable. They can arrive at a compromise with Philhealth,” Vargas said.
“This is a time-sensitive issue. We already have thousands of OFWs in our quarantine facilities and DOLE says about 100,000 more of our kababayans are expected to return to the country this year. We shouldn’t allow our quarantine facilities to be overwhelmed,” Vargas added.
Labor Sec. Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III said some 6,000 returning OFWs have been stranded in quarantine facilities in Metro Manila since October 15 after the Red Cross stopped conducting COVID-19 tests for the government.
Bello admitted it is now taking longer for OFWs to receive the results of their RT-PCR tests, which used to take only one to two days when PRC was in charge.
Vargas said that while he understands Philhealth’s need to review the agreement with the Red Cross for COVID-19 testing, this can be undertaken without holding off payment to the organization.
“Philhealth can hire a battery of experts if it must to review the deal, but it should pay the Red Cross immediately. Even a one-day delay in the conduct of COVID-19 tests could reverse the gains we have achieved in fighting the pandemic,” he said. Ryan Ponce Pacpaco