Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said the Department of Justice (DoJ) is reviewing the memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and PhilHealth regarding the COVID-19 tests.
“The DoJ is reviewing the MoA between the Philippine Red Cross and PhilHealth and will render an opinion within the week,” Guevarra said.
The PRC has stopped conducting COVID-19 tests for the government after the PhilHealth failed to pay the P930 million it owed for past tests.
The PRC likewise stopped conducting free coronavirus tests for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), medical frontliners, and other Filipinos starting Thursday, 15 October, due to the state health insurer’s P930-million ($19.14-million) debt to the PRC.
The free tests had been funded by the PhilHealth, but the Red Cross stopped these due to the government insurer’s “inability to settle its ever-increasing outstanding balance.”
In a statement, the PRC said it is a difficult decision to a humanitarian organization such as the PRC to make but it has to be made.
It added 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.
Likewise, the PRC will no longer accept specimens from OFW, individuals arriving in airports and seaports, individuals through the mega swabbing facilities and through local government units (LGU), medical frontliners and government workers and 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 orders requires about $6 million per order,” the PRC said.
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 8 September.
The PRC said it had conducted 1 million COVID-19 tests as of 6 October, or about a quarter of the national test output. As of 13 October, it has billed PhilHealth P1,014,975,500, but P930,993,000 remains unpaid.
The PRC’s COVID-19 test fee is P3,500, which is chargeable to PhilHealth.
Under their memorandum of agreement, PhilHealth was supposed to provide a revolving fund of P100 million to reimburse the PRC for “priority tests requested by various government agencies.”
The PRC said PhilHealth never replenished this revolving fund and PRC is advancing its funds for testing services as a result of the nonpayment of PhilHealth.
In a related development, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go urged the Inter-Agency Task Force created by President Rodrigo Duterte to intensify its PhilHealth investigation by recommending preventive suspensions and actively filing more cases against former and current officials found involved in corruption or negligence of duties.
Go reiterated the recommendation of the Senate through Senate Resolution 63, dated 19 August 2020, urging the President to preventively suspend the “top management” of PhilHealth.
The Senate resolution, adopted with all Senators as co-authors, urges the President to impose preventive suspension over the “top management” of PhilHealth involved in the irregularities in the agency, those responsible for delay or refusal to submit documents pertinent to all investigations being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation and Commission on Audit.
Go, as chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, expressed deep concern about the allegations of widespread corruption within the state insurance agency which serves a vital role as a pillar of the healthcare system.
DoH affected too
DoH Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire admitted during a virtual press briefing that the PRC’s contributions for their daily outputs has been huge but with them no longer doing COVID-19 testing, they have to tap other resources for such purpose.
“We will not deny that the Philippine Red Cross has a huge contribution on our daily outputs or the outputs for our laboratories. We can also see that they have big laboratories, their capacity and its distributed across the different areas of the country. So yes, we were affected by the stopping of the operations of the Philippine Red Cross,” Vergeire said.
Gordon thanks Duterte
Meanwhile, PRC chair and Senator Richard Gordon thanked the President for “understanding” the position of the humanitarian group when it decided to discontinue conducting PhilHealth-funded coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing.
“I would like to thank the President for understanding our position very well. We are not a rich organization. We needed to ask for money today just to get the (COVID-19) test kits from China to here,” Gordon said in a meeting with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Wednesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier told the humanitarian group that PhilHealth’s debt will be settled “in a short while” and asked them “not to worry.”
Gordon noted that the group needed a “lot of money” to procure test kits and reagents from China. Each of these orders require about USD 6 million per order. The PRC also needs to pay for the planes which transported them.
“We should not make our decisions based on fear. Delay is also corruption. In the first place, there is a proper contract,” he said referring to the memorandum of agreement between PRC and PhilHealth signed last April 2020.
“More importantly, we do not test anyone who was not referred by the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases), PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) and local government units,” he added.
with FRANCIS WAKEFIELD