Some PH Red Cross COVID-19 tests in peril after PhilHealth fails to pay debts

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2020 05:10 PM

Health workers stay inside a classroom turned into living quarters inside the San Juan Elementary School on August 13, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) on Monday said it may have to suspend a portion of its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing operations after the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) failed to pay its P1-billion debt to the non-government organization.

The PRC may discontinue COVID-19 tests for patients who will charge fees to PhilHealth should the state-run agency fail to settle its dues by August 17, the organization's chair Sen. Richard Gordon said in a statement.

"Pagkatapos nilang magbigay ng advanced payment na P100 million noon, paunti-unti na lang ang pagbabayad nila," Gordon said.

(After they placed an initial deposit of P100 million, their succeeding payments have been slow.)

"Hindi naman pupuwedeng ganoon dahil kailangan din namin ng pambili ng materials para sa testing at pambayad sa mga tao," he said.

(We can't tolerate that because we also need money to but materials for testing and to compensate our staff.)

PhilHealth's failure to pay some P700.5 million has also stopped the PRC from opening its COVID-19 laboratories in Bacolod, Zamboanga, and Cagayan de Oro City, Gordon said.

"We have been totally cooperative in all aspects but we cannot afford to continue if the government, particularly PhilHealth, continues to fail to pay for their lawful obligations," he said.

The PRC has reached out to PhilHealth officials, but has yet to settle the issue, the senator said.

"These delays and foot dragging by PhilHealth have been going on from day one of the contract," he said.

"We sincerely hope for our people's sake that the government will see its way clear in resolving this unwanted crisis immediately," he said.

The PRC will still accommodate individuals who will pay for their swab tests, the organization's statement read.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the PhilHealth is mandated to shoulder all COVID-19 tests of Filipinos since billions of funds were realigned to the government-owned insurance agency to help counter the spread of the highly-contagious disease in the country.

The government tapped the PRC's for the country's COVID-19 testing efforts, with Health Sec. Francisco Duque III acknowledging that the independent organization was "faster" than public hospitals in swabbing operations.

The Senate is currently investigating PhilHealth officials for over the allegedly overpriced procurement of tech equipment, and the disbursement of COVID-19 funds to dialysis centers and maternity clinics.