PhilHealth to change cost of 'overpriced' COVID-19 test packages

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2020 12:36 AM

Healthworkers conduct routine swab testing for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on their fellow hospital employees at the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila on April 14, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file photo

MANILA - The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) on Wednesday said it will adjust the prices of its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing packages to reflect more recent data, noting that the "overpriced" P8,150 bundle was based on test kit prices earlier this year.

PhilHealth is "already preparing [its] second COVID-19 testing rates" as the P8,150 package flagged by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was based on data "collected early in the pandemic," PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales told senators in a hybrid hearing.

"These case rates are constantly being reviewed and now that we have more data, since there are more test kits coming in that are actually cheaper, we will incorporate it into our case rate estimates," Morales said, without disclosing how much the new rates would be.

Drilon earlier asked why the state-owned insurance firm priced COVID-19 testing at P8,150, more than double the price charged by the Philippine Red Cross.

PhilHealth priced some testing kits at P2,700 each, but some private firms were able to buy a kit for $15 (P750) a piece, Drilon said.

SPECIMEN TRANSPORT, CLINICAL ASSESSMENT FEES

The Senate minority leader also flagged a P509-charge "for screening and clinical assessment."

"Is it always done? Because my information is that this is not being done," Drilon said.
 
Morales said screening and clinical assessments are "necessary steps in the collection of specimen" during COVID-19 tests, but admitted that PhilHealth will have to check reports that these were not being done in some clinics.

A separate P451 is also charged to every patient for "specimen transport," the senator said.

"Are you telling me that every test, they transport the specimen every time? You're saying that for every test that is conducted, the specimen is separately transported?" he asked the PhilHealth chief.

The price is based on the "average" cost of transport, Morales said.

"You average it on the higher side... This is indeed something we could not agree with," Drilon said.

"For every test that you conduct [using the P8,150 package], there is an overpayment of approximately P6,000 per test," the lawmaker said.

"If we are going to test 2 million people, we are talking about P12 billion of public funds which we could have saved," he said.

PHILHEALTH ASKS FOR RED CROSS' HELP

Morales agreed with Drilon that the PhilHealth made "high estimates" of the cost of COVID-19 testing.

"We are asking for help from Red Cross... We are asking Red Cross for a breakdown of their P3,500 [testing cost] so that we can understand how that happened," Morales said.

PhilHealth currently offers 3 packages for coronavirus testing ranging from P2,710 to as high as P8,150, "depending on how the test kits were procured by the accredited testing laboratories," according to the firm's website.

The state insurance firm had also signed an agreement with Red Cross to charge patients only P3,500 for COVID-19 tests.

Drilon said he expects PhilHealth to "reduce" its COVID-19 testing packages "to reasonable levels."