Ouch, Ouch and Ouch: Consumers Paying the Pandemic Price

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Apr 07 2021 02:55 PM | Updated as of Apr 07 2021 02:56 PM

It’s certainly been an unlucky 13 months of lockdown. Rising unemployment and underemployment, coupled with inflated prices of goods and services have been hard on everyone, and consumers are literally paying the pandemic price.

I discovered this to be true even for medical expenses.

To avoid crowded hospitals, we scheduled medical tests at home when possible. We tried this even before the COVID-19 scare and found that home service fees starting at P300 are quite reasonable. The rate usually covers one household, so if two or more require diagnostic tests, the cost comes out cheaper than all of you driving to the clinic or paying for mass transport.

If some of the tests require fasting, you also minimize the inconvenience on the patient’s end. The best part for me is being spared from the queue which on some days can be quite long and uncomfortable.

Needless to say, when the lockdown happened, we were grateful for this option and scheduled a few more home visits. To my dismay, I did not realize until the last test that we were now paying for so much more than just the home service fee. The ouch, ouch and ouch in the headline are for the higher test fees, a GCQ (general community quarantine) fee and for PPE consumables which were all charged to us on top of the home service fee.

Ouch #1 – Paying as much as 50 percent more for medical tests

When I finally clued in that I was paying for more than just the home service fee, I asked our frequented laboratory – Hi Precision Diagnostics – for a comparison between the cost of doing the tests as a walk-in patient and as a home service patient. I was shocked that depending on the medical request, I can pay as much as 50 percent more! For the four tests I was planning to have, they were charging 17 percent, 26 percent, 50 percent and 40 percent more, respectively. 

To make sense of the arbitrary mark-up, I was not satisfied with the explanation of the medical staff that would visit us at home so I called the hotline and was advised to email my questions instead. In acknowledging my email, they wanted me to share my patient details to look into the matter. I chose not to, as I pushed for their standard rates that apply to all patients. There has been no response in over 24 hours even with follow-up emails.

Ouch #2 – GCQ fee of P125

Yes, we know businesses are having a hard time staying open. Yes, we also know that they need to adjust their prices for the higher operating costs during quarantine. And yes we know that these will be passed on, in some way or form, to the consumer.

One way Hi Precision Diagnostics is doing this is through a GCQ fee of 125. From the comparison estimates presented to me, this fee is charged only to home service patients.

I checked with two other diagnostic laboratories that service our area – LCM Diagnostics and Intercon Diagnostic Laboratory Inc – and both do not charge such a fee. What they charge is the home service fee, and both also confirmed that the cost of their laboratory tests for walk-in patients and home service patients are the same.

Ouch #3 – PPE Consumables as high as P200

With Hi Precision Diagnostics, a walk-in patient pays P100 for PPE consumables and a home service patient will cough up double at P200. The thing is I would have gladly paid this fee if the one who came to our home showed some proof that her PPE gear was really consumable – that is she wore them for us alone and would be disposed of right after.
 
LCM Diagnostics confirmed they use one PPE set per household, but there is no separate charge for this. It could already be part of their home service pricing which was P400 for my area. Compared to Hi Precision Diagnostics of P300 for home service + P200 for PPE consumables + P125 GCQ fee, LCM appears to be the more cost-effective option.

Intercon Diagnostic Laboratory Inc, an established provider in the Binondo and Quezon City area, also charge a PPE consumable fee of P100 when they conduct home visits.

Lesson learned in comparison shopping

With Hi Precision Diagnostics, for the same tests, I would have paid P4,310 if they came to our home, or P2,930 as a walk in patient. No wonder patients continue to suffer the queue and potential exposure in the clinics branches – that’s a 47 percent price difference that no consumer at this time can afford to pay. I pity those that have no choice, such as patients with limited mobility, or senior citizens who for most of 2020 were advised to stay home. 

It’s a painful lesson learned in comparison shopping. What really upset me is that I did not know until the last test that I was paying for all these. I was given a heads up concerning the P300 home service fee when I first made an appointment years ago. And germophobic me has not kept any paper receipts since March 2020 so there is no chance of reviewing my bills after the service. As a consumer closely watching her monthly household spend, it was one more unpleasant surprise in what has been a long and painful pandemic.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

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