Palace says sorry for PhilHealth debt as Red Cross halts COVID-19 tests under state insurer

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2020 03:25 PM

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MANILA— Malacañang apologized Wednesday for state medical insurer PhilHealth's failure to settle its P930-million debt to the Philippine Red Cross that has forced the latter to halt its tests for COVID-19. 

PRC was responsible for about 1 million COVID-19 tests, or nearly a fourth of the country's total 3.8 million tests. The organization said it would no longer accept specimens for PhilHealth funded-tests after 11:59 p.m. Thursday due to the agency's "ever-increasing" outstanding balance.

"Malaking kawalan po iyan kung ititigil nila ang testing for PhilHealth. Pero ako naman po ay kampante na mayroon lang talagang mga internal problema ngayon ang PhilHealth na alam naman nating lahat," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

(It's a big loss if they stop testing for PhilHealth. But I am confident PhilHealth just has an internal problem that we all know.)

“Humihingi po ako ng pasensya sa PRC on behalf of the President,” he added. 

(I would like to apologize to the PRC on behalf of the President.)

Whistleblowers earlier accused PhilHealth officials of pocketing some P15 billion in state funds and approving allegedly overpriced projects and reimbursements to supposedly favored hospitals. At the height of the accusations, then PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales resigned. 

Morales had signed the memorandum of agreement for the PRC tests, said National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. 

Morales' successor Dante Gierran "just wanted to make sure all is in order" before settling the PRC dues and has asked for a comment from the budget department, Galvez said. 

"‘Pag favorable po ang comment ng DBM, tuloy-tuloy na po iyon," he said in the same press briefing. 

(If the DBM comment is favorable, that will go smoothly.)

"I am confident that the issue will be resolved immediately," he added. 

The government has authorized around 147 laboratories to run coronavirus tests. In the meantime, other labs can take over PRC's load, said Roque. 

"In other words 'wag naman po mag-alala ang ating mga kababayan," he said. 

(People need not worry.)

The Philippines aims to test about 10 million people for the novel coronavirus that has placed the country in varying degrees of lockdowns for about half a year, left millions jobless, and dragged the economy into recession. 

The health department recorded 1,910 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday and 78 more fatalities. The current total in the country is at 346,536 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia, and 6,449 deaths.

It has been gradually reopening the economy to allow more businesses to resume operations and more people to go back to work, but partial restrictions in and around the capital Manila remain to keep the virus spread in check. —With a report from Reuters