Big labs take on more COVID-19 testing amid Red Cross halt over unpaid PhilHealth dues

Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 17 2020 12:50 PM

PRC earlier this week announced it was halting COVID-19 tests supposed to be funded by PhilHealth, citing debts incurred by the state-controlled insurance firm. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA— The government has rerouted swab test specimen meant for the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to major laboratories in and around Metro Manila after the organization halted PhilHealth-covered COVID-19 tests over the state health insurer's debt amounting to around P1 billion. 

In a press briefing Saturday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they have already "rerouted" the specimen to hospitals such as the Lung Center of the Philippines to prevent stalling tests.

"This is a temporary measure so we would be able to complete and proceed and continuously receive specimens para hindi ma-hamper ang operations (so operations will not be hampered)," Vergeire said. 

Citing unsettled dues, the PRC earlier this week announced it was halting COVID-19 tests supposed to be funded by PhilHealth for returning overseas Filipino workers, arrivals at seaports and airports, those in mega swabbing facilities, and those included in the Department of Health's expanded testing guidelines.

"As the PRC 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. 

Over 1 million coronavirus tests, or about a fourth of the Philippines' 3.8 million tests so far, were done by PRC. 

Vergeire said PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran and other officials have sat down with PRC, saying they are fixing data vital for paying the unsettled debt. 

"It is currently being resolved. Mayroon tayong inaayos na datos para magkaroon po tayo ng final resolution in this issue. Nakikipagtulungan naman po ang Philippine Red cross para maiayos ang mga ito dahil may kailangan pa pong datos para po makapagcomply so we could be able to provide them the necessary [payments]," Vergeire said. 

(We are fixing data so we could have a final resolution on this issue. The Philippine Red Cross is cooperating so we could fix this because there is needed data so we could be able to provide them the necessary payments.)