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Philhealth urged to pay PRC for COVID-19 tests

Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to immediately pay the close to P1 billion it owes the Philippine Red Cross for coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) testing.

The PRC earlier said it will stop conducting its tests until they are paid the P1 billion balance incurred by PhilHealth as of October 6.

“I appeal to PhilHealth to honor the agreement with the Red Cross. This is a huge blow to our country’s testing capacity and it is all because of the government agency’s failure to honor the contract,” Vargas said.

Vargas added that with the Red Cross no longer conducting COVID-19 tests charged to Philhealth, returning OFWs and government frontliners will have no choice but to pay for RT-PCR tests with other accredited testing centers.

“Let’s not burden them with the cost of testing. Philhealth, please pay up,” he said.

Vargas said Philhealth’s failure to settle its growing outstanding balance might also affect other programs of Red Cross, including disaster response.

“Like any other organization, Red Cross needs the funds for its many services and programs. These could be compromised by Philhealth’s failure to settle its obligations,” he said.

PRC said it will only complete the testing of specimens of returning overseas Filipino workers, those arriving in airports and seaports, those in mega swabbing facilities, and frontline healthcare and government workers submitted until Thursday evening.

The humanitarian organization said that as of Oct. 13, it has billed PhilHealth P1,014,975,500, but P930,993,000 remains unpaid, with the latter’s last payment being made on Sept. 8.

The COVID-19 test fee of P3,500 is chargeable to PhilHealth, which should have been paid through a P100 million revolving fund that PhilHealth has failed to replenish.

Vargas said the country can’tafford to have PRC stop its testing operations as it would hamper testing capability.

“PRC has been responsible for a quarter of our country’s test output. Such efficiency should be lauded and rewarded. Huwag natin pahirapan dahil sa huli, ang mga kababayan natin ang magdudusa kung titigil ang Red Cross sa COVID-19 testing,” said the lawmaker.

He added that the country’s gains in fighting the pandemic could be wiped out in an instant “if one of our most proven partners in the key area of testing called quits.”

“We are already finally flattening the curve. Instead of losing partners, we should be much more aggressive in adding to our testing capability,” Vargas added.

Even as the issues with the PRC are being resolved, the solon called on PhilHealth to partner with more hospitals for COVID-19 testing around the country to encourage more Filipinos to be tested for the virus.

“People will be more willing to have themselves tested for COVID-19 if it’s free or at the very least, affordable. Philhealth should team up with healthcare providers to bring COVID-19 testing down to our communities,” he said.

The solon said that a fully-working system of testing, tracing, treatment, and isolation is crucial especially as government plans to re-open the economy.

“Eventually, we have to move on from the current mode of declaring quarantine every time we see an uptick in cases. If we are to have a sustained recovery, we need to have the 3Ts and other health and safety protocols down pat,” Vargas said.