House bill pushes testing of vulnerable sectors without virus symptoms

Mara Cepeda
House bill pushes testing of vulnerable sectors without virus symptoms
Filipinos returning to work as well as Filipinos and foreigners entering the Philippines from abroad would also be prioritized for COVID-19 testing under the bill

MANILA, Philippines – A House committee gave its thumbs up to a bill that would include among those prioritized for testing members of certain sectors “vulnerable” to the coronavirus but who do not necessarily show symptoms.  

On Thursday, May 28, the House Defeat COVID-19 committee approved House Bill (HB) No. 6707 or the “Crushing COVID Act,” which aims to set an “available, affordable, and accessible” testing protocol for certain “vulnerable members of society.”

The bill was primarily authored by Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin, a former health secretary.

If passed into law, HB 6707 would require the government to also prioritize the following for COVID-19 testing using the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kit: 

  • Filipinos returning to work and who have preexisting medical conditions 
  • Filipinos and foreigners entering the Philippines from abroad

The cost of testing for Filipinos covered by HB 6707 would be shouldered by the government through the COVID Testing Assistance Fund, where the amount would be charged to either the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the Department of Health’s Medical Assistance Program, or the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Medical Assistance Fund. 

Foreigners, however, would have to shoulder the cost of their own test. 

The RT-PCR test kits use swabs from patients taken from the nose or throat to determine the actual presence of the coronavirus and if a person is currently infected. Its accuracy rate is at 97% or higher. (READ: FAST FACTS: What’s the difference between PCR, rapid antibody tests?) 

An imported RT-PCR test kit costs between P3,000 to P8,000, while the COVID-19 test kit developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) cost much lower between P2,700 to P3,000. The local test kits, however, are yet to be mass produced. 

HB 6707 is just one of the House measures pushing to subject a greater part of the population to COVID-19 testing.  The P1.3-trillion economic stimulus package, which the lower chamber already approved on second reading, allots P20 billion for the mass testing of millions of Filipino workers in 2020 to 2021. 

For now, the Department of Health (DOH) is limiting the coverage of COVID-19 testing to the following “at-risk” sectors:

  • Suspect cases
  • People with travel history and exposure to a known coronavirus case, whether or not they are showing symptoms
  • Health care workers with possible exposure to the disease, whether or not they are showing symptoms

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it is currently “not cost effective” to prioritize the testing of those who do not exhibit coronavirus symptoms because the country’s healthcare system does not have the capacity for it.

As of Wednesday, May 27, COVID-19 has infected 15,049 people in the country, with 904 deaths and 3,506 recoveries.

The House Defeat COVID-19 also passed on Thursday two other measures aimed to boost the government’s response to COVID-19, including the “better normal” bill and a P1.5-trillion infrastructure spending package to curb unemployment. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.