The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will now shoulder the testing costs for COVID-19 to ease the burden of individuals seeking treatment of the disease, Malacañang said Wednesday.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles disclosed that the agency is now in the process of operationalizing the new benefit, as he assured the public that the government has been working overtime to provide more test kits for COVID-19.
“The last thing we want is for our citizens to worry about medical costs and expenses. Their only concern should be their well-being and the well-being of their families,” Nograles said.
The University of the Philippines has developed test kits that are cheaper from the ones used at the present. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the locally-developed kits will cost only P1,320, four times cheaper than P6,000 per foreign test kit.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DoH) has asked all its medical centers and hospitals in Luzon to discontinue admission of private patients to prepare rooms for COVID-19 patients.
A memorandum from Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo dated 9 March directed hospital chiefs in Luzon to convert private rooms and wards into isolation areas for patients with COVID-19.
“As such, you are hereby directed to discontinue admission of private patients within 24 hours of receipt of this memorandum. Furthermore, please undertake the necessary preparations for the establishment of isolation rooms while considering that cohorting of patients cannot be done,” the order read.
The memorandum only applies to DoH hospitals in Luzon, including Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center and Rizal Medical Center.
On Wednesday, however, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said only severe cases of the coronavirus disease will be admitted in hospitals while those with mild cases will be advised to undergo home quarantine, noting that there are only a total of 345 isolation and negative pressure rooms in public hospitals across the country.
The health chief also maintained that his office should not be blamed for the rising number of virus cases in the Philippines, despite admitting that there were lapses in DoH’s reporting of developments which caused panic and hysteria.
Duque insisted that it was not the intention of the DoH to avoid disclosing information, adding that his office was merely complying with the National Privacy Act.
“We seek your understanding that in the first cases there were slippages and there were missteps,” he told lawmakers in a House hearing.
Duque said starting from now, the local government units will disclose the place where the patients are based while the DoH will reveal the hospitals where the patients are confined.
In the Senate, Senator Francis Tolentino proposed a measure seeking to grant the DoH authority to lockdown affected areas during health emergencies.
Under Senate Bill 1408, the DoH can also order the suspension of classes and examination of persons in affected areas to contain the spread of any disease.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said there is no reason yet to impose a total lockdown in Metro Manila unless the DoH raises the COVID-19 alert system to Code Red Sub-Level 2.
The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines said they are ready to deploy troops should the need for a lockdown arise.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo urged Filipinos to consult medical professionals should they show symptoms of COVID-19.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of everyone’s cooperation during this time,” Panelo said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday declared a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines, which already had 49 cases of the fatal disease as of Wednesday afternoon.
with KRISTINA MARALIT @tribunephl_tina ,
KEITH CALAYAG @tribunephl_kit
and MJ BLANCAFLOR