As Red Cross halts PhilHealth COVID-19 tests, DOH mulls alternatives for screening

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2020 02:34 PM

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MANILA — The Department of Health on Friday said the government continues to negotiate with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) after it stopped running COVID-19 tests supposed to be funded by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) over its debt that stands at P1 billion.

While the government has tapped several other laboratories to run the tests, the DOH said tests are not always required to screen individuals such as returning overseas Filipino workers.

“Another thing that we have been discussing, kailangan kasi ishift ang focus din na nakikita natin (we have to shift our focus), it’s not always to test,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing. 

Vergeire said this is based on the Omnibus Guidelines for Prevention, Detection. Isolation, Treatment, and Reintegration Strategies for COVID-19 released this month.

She said, for example, doctors will assess clinically if returning overseas Filipinos would need to be tested or not. The only requirement is that they undergo quarantine for 14 days.

She also said doctors will consider if the returning citizen is coming from a country with high prevalence of COVID-19. 

In the past, medical societies have advised the government not to rely on tests for screening due to resource limitations and the fact that even with RT-PCR tests, it’s hard to detect asymptomatic patients. 

The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) said it would be better to use clinical assessment such as checking for symptoms in the last 14 days.

In the meantime, Vergeire said they already released rezoning guidelines to divert test samples intended for the Philippine Red Cross to other large laboratories.

On Thursday, the DOH announced that the following laboratories will take on the testing requirements for returning Filipinos:

1. Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (TALA)
2. Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center
3. Lung Center of the Philippines
4. PNP Crime Laboratory
5. Research Institute for Tropical Medicine
6. San Lazaro Hospital 
7. Ospital ng Imus
8. Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital

Vergeire said they are also discussing the matter with the Philippine Red Cross.

“The PhilHealth President went to the Philippine Red cross, together with his officials. At napag-usapan po kung ano ang ways forward natin (And how we can move forward was discussed) so we can immediately resolve this,” she said.

On Friday morning, PhilHealth apologized for the delay in payment, saying it was partly due to the review being conducted amid the corruption probe on the state-run insurer.

It said it was just waiting for clearance from other government agencies.

The PRC said it was also open to settling the outstanding bill of P1.014 billion as of Friday.

Before this, PRC was receiving samples from people arriving in airports and seaports and those at mega swabbing facilities, as well as medical frontliners.