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Duterte flags overpriced test kits, PPE

Francis Wakefield



Malacañang on Friday said President Duterte is concerned by the wide disparity in the price of testing kits purchased by the Department of Health (DoH) and those procured by the private sector and wants the gap investigated.

There is also the collateral issue of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE).

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte needs clarity as he is puzzled by the discrepancy in the prices.

Roque said private sector testing kit purchases cost only P1.75 million whereas government purchases of the same cost taxpayers P4 million.

“The President needs answers,” he said in Filipino in a broadcast interview.

“He, along with the rest of us in the country, needs clarity as to the wide disparity in price,” Roque added.

At the same time, three senators stood firm in their call for Duque to resign over missteps that erode the government’s credibility in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think the latest statements of the health secretary will make the 14 senators who passed a resolution weeks ago asking for his resignation, change their mind,” Senator Sonny Angara, previously infected by the coronavirus, said.

“Sad to say, his statements have hurt the department and the government since his remarks caused confusion among the public,” he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros pointed out the DoH is losing its credibility in terms of giving out data in the fight against the pandemic.

“DoH has to make sure we can rely on the data they provide. We have to ground our policies on the real situation. We cannot afford a divergent interpretation of terms. The DoH has to communicate clearly,” she said.

Hontiveros further explained the government lost the people’s trust following allegations of overpricing in COVID-19 tests and other medical supplies.

“Altogether, these gaffes do not inspire confidence in the health department’s program to address the pandemic. Lives are at stake. The Secretary has to shape up or ship out,” she said.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Duque’s blunders are “grave and unforgivable.”

“They cannot deny that these are grave and unforgivable lapses made by Secretary Duque being at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19. He was negligent. He did not exercise the due diligence expected of him as PhilHealth chairman. These issues affect the credibility of the DoH to lead this fight,” he said.

Drilon, however, emphasized only President Duterte can decide on Duque’s fate.

The Palace noted reports PhilHealth could lose P8.3 billion allegedly for coronavirus test ‘overpayments’

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque helped craft the Universal Health Care Law and has filed complaints against PhilHealth officials. He referred the matter to Undersecretary Jesus Quitain instead who previously investigated the various allegations and who knows the PhilHealth landscape far more than Roque does.

Earlier on Tuesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson told the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing that with the help of the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service, the Department of Health purchased 10 King Fisher nucleic acid extractor machines for P4 million for each unit.

Lacson compared the purchase against the Sansure nucleic acid extractors bought by the private sector, Project ARK, costing only P1.75 million per unit.

Department Budget and Management Undersecretary Lloyd Lao explained Project ARK’s machines were from China while the DoH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) specifically requested the US brand Thermo Science King Fisher.

Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco Duque III explained to the Senate panel that the procurement of the more expensive US-made machines was deliberate for reasons of compatibility with existing machines used by the DOH and the RITM.

Lacson, however, remained unconvinced and explained the Sansure brand is being used by the Philippine Red Cross in their polymerase chain reaction or PCR-based tests and that Duque’s justification was “false information.”

“They are claiming Sansure is a closed system, which is not true. Because yesterday I confronted Sec. Duque who claimed the reason the agency did not purchase Sansure was because it is a closed system, which is not true,” Lacson explained.

“Giving us false information does not help him.”

Lacson also claimed the DoH also procured PPE priced at P1,979 compared to the PPE that may be purchased for only P1,079.

Drilon on Wednesday said PhilHealth may lose P8.3 billion over alleged ‘overpayment’ of coronavirus tests.

In a broadcast interview, the lawmaker said issue of “overpayment” was raised at the Senate Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

“The PhilHealth has a package to test. The package is P8,150 per test. In other words, you go to a hospital and have yourself tested and PhilHealth pays the hospital P8,150. Now, what is the cost of the test kits?” Drilon said.

According to the lawmaker, their research shows the kits from China costs P1,500 per test.

Additional overhead and cost of materials cost approximately P2,000 plus a margin of income roughly equal P500.

Drilon said a “reasonable” testing cost is around P4,000. The amount is the same value charged by the Philippine Red Cross for their own tests.

“The PhilHealth is reimbursing the hospital for the same work for P8,150. In other words, the overpayment by PhilHealth is P4,150 per test,” he said.

“We will test 2 percent of our population or roughly 2 million Filipinos. If you multiply 2 million by P4,150.00, the potential loss is P8.3 billion to PhilHealth. There is a potential overprice of P8.3 billion,” Drilon added.

The minority leader, in a separate radio interview, warned this may be a “criminal act” as the overpayments were done in the midst of pandemic where the country’s economy has a hard time restarting.

with Hananeel Bordey

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