Philippine Red Cross to stop PhilHealth-funded COVID-19 tests due to P930-M gov't debt

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2020 02:25 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2020 02:57 PM

Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman and CEO Sen. Richard Gordon greets a beneficiary at the Dr. Juan G. Nolasco Highschool in Tondo, Manila on July 3, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippine Red Cross said Thursday it would stop its COVID-19 testing funded by state medical insurer PhilHealth due to the latter's failure to settle its "ever-increasing" outstanding balance that currently stands at P930 million. 

The PRC has done over 1 million coronavirus tests, or about a fourth of the Philippines' 3.8 million tests so far, the organization said. 

"However, as the PCR continues to face challenges with PhilHealth due to its inability to settle its ever-increasing outstanding balance… we are constrained to cease conducting tests chargeable to PhilHealth effective today," it said in a statement. 

PhilHealth is currently facing corruption allegations, with its former chief and several officials recommended to be prosecuted for irregularities. 

The PRC said it would complete screening for all specimens submitted up to 11:59 p.m. Thursday. 

After this, the PRC would no longer accept specimens, including those from the following, it said: 

  • Overseas Filipino workers
  • Those arriving in seaports and airports
  • Mega swabbing facilities through local governments
  • Others included in the expanded testing guidelines of the health department 

Tests will be on hold until PhilHealth pays its overdue balance. 

The PRC said it would continue testing the following: 

  • Individuals who booked their screening through PRC helpline 1158 or book.redcross1158.com
  • Private companies and organizations 
  • Local government units or other government agencies with laboratory testing agreements with the PRC or those whose payments are up to date 

PALACE SAYS SORRY 

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PRC is the government's "major partner in testing" and the halt would be a big loss, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

"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," he told reporters. 

(That is a big loss if they will stop testing for PhilHealth. But I am confident that there are just internal problems now with PhilHealth that we all know.)

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

(I am apologizing to the PRC on behalf of the President.)

Whistleblowers earlier accused PhilHealth officials of pocketing some P15 billion in state funds, and approving overpriced projects and reimbursement 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 over half a year, left millions jobless, and dragged the economy into recession.