Red Cross stops free coronavirus tests due to P930-M PhilHealth debt

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) stopped conducting free coronavirus tests for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), medical frontliners, and other Filipinos starting Thursday, October 15, due to the state health insurer's P930-million ($19.14-million) debt to the PRC.

These "free" tests had been funded by the embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), but the Red Cross stopped these due to PhilHealth's "inability to settle its ever-increasing outstanding balance."

"This is a difficult decision to a humanitarian organization such as the PRC to make but it has to be made. The PRC does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its lawful obligations to PRC," the PRC said in a statement dated Wednesday, October 14, but released to the media on Thursday.

The PRC will no longer accept specimens from the following:

  • overseas Filipino workers
  • individuals arriving in airports and seaports
  • individuals through the mega swabbing facilities and through local government units (LGU)
  • medical frontliners and government workers
  • others included in the Department of Health's (DOH) expanded testing protocol.

This is until PhilHealth settles its outstanding balance of P930,993,000 to PRC.

"The PRC needs the resources to procure test kits and reagents from China. Each of these order require about $6 million per order," the PRC said.

Meanwhile, the PRC will continue to test samples from the following:

  • individuals who booked testing through their hotlines
  • private companies and organizations
  • LGUs and other government agencies with testing agreement with PRC and whose payments are up to date

PRC said that it was in constant communication with PhilHealth management requesting and following up payment since the state health insurer's last payment on September 8. "Not a single centavo has been paid since then," the PRC added.

Under the Universal Health Care Law, PhilHealth is tasked with implementing the National Health Insurance Program, which covers COVID-19 testing and treatment of all Filipinos.

PhilHealth has yet to release its statement on the matter.

Why this matters

The PRC has helped the country in ramping up its coronavirus testing capacity.

The PRC has conducted over 1 million coronavirus swab tests, representing 26% of all coronavirus swab tests in the Philippines. It also operates 21 of the 147 licensed testing hubs in the country.

Lawmakers in August investigated PhilHealth for alleged corruption as whistleblowers said some P15 billion ($309.6 million) in funds were pocketed by its executives.

Several top PhilHealth officials, including its former chief Ricardo Morales, face administrative charges.

Meanwhile, a Rappler investigative story published on September 15 revealed that PhilHealth and the PRC entered into a contract deemed disadvantageous to the government, following the advance payment of P100 million ($2.05 million) for PRC's COVID-19 tests.

While PRC helped the country in ramping up its COVID-19 testing capacity, several laws, including state audit rules, clearly prohibit advance payments. They mandate reimbursement for the protection of public funds – meaning, the party has to incur costs and render services first before it can be paid back.

In a 17-page reply to Rappler on September 8, PRC maintained that advance payments by PhilHealth are allowed and that the deal was not disadvantageous to government.

The PhilHealth anomalies have fueled anger and frustration at government at a time when the Philippines has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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