House bill pushes testing of vulnerable sectors without virus symptoms

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: 

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:

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

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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