Gordon rejects gov't plan to pay half of PhilHealth debt for COVID-19 testing to resume

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 23) — The Philippine Red Cross is demanding full payment of PhilHealth's debt before it resumes conducting coronavirus tests charged to the agency, rejecting government's plan to initially pay half of the amount.

“No, they should pay the whole amount because mahirap, nakabitin kami eh (that will leave us hanging),” Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of PRC, said in a media briefing on Friday.

Malacañang earlier said the government will pay 50% of PhilHealth’s debt by next week. The collectibles have ballooned to over ₱1 billion. The PRC stopped conducting Philhealth-funded swab tests last week, saying it can resume tests only after the agency's overdue balance of nearly ₱931 million is settled.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said half a billion pesos is a "substantial amount" and should be enough for the PRC to get back to testing PhilHealth clients. But Gordon said he does not know where the Palace got the notion it can pay half of the bill first.

Ewan ko kung saan galing yung 50%, hindi ko alam yung 50% (I don’t know where the 50% came from, I do not know that 50%),” Gordon said.

Sila lang nagsasabi (They’re the only ones saying that). They talk to themselves all the time,” he added.

Hours after the PRC briefing, the Palace released a statement announcing that the Department of Justice has advised PhilHealth to make a partial payment first while the testing deal between the clashing entities is being reviewed. It cited a legal opinion from the DOJ, which the department has not disclosed.

"Having said this, we call on the PRC to resume its testing services," Roque said, reiterating government's commitment to "pay its obligation." No amount was mentioned.

READ: PhilHealth says it will pay Red Cross debt on October 26

Not enough test kits, staff

Gordon stressed that the PRC is not a profit-oriented organization and cannot shoulder the costs of testing, which is at ₱3,500 per polymerase chain reaction or PCR test.

He said the PRC does not have enough test kits and staff now and is counting on the money that will come from the government. He has asked half of PRC’s medical technologists not to report to work for now since the organization cannot afford to pay their monthly salary of around ₱35,000.

Tingnan mo ha, babayad ka ng kalahati… Anong mangayayari ngayon? Papalakihin nanaman? Edi ninenerbyos kaming lahat. ‘Wag naman,” Gordon said.

[Translation: Look, you’ll pay half. What happens next? It will pile up again and we’ll be nervous? Let’s not do that.]

Gordon recognized that PRC's decision to halt testing resulted in over 6,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers, but maintained that if the government could afford to send them to hotels for their quarantine, it should be able to pay for their tests.

PhilHealth waiting for DOJ review

PhilHealth earlier said it previously paid the PRC ₱1.6 billion for over 433,000 tests, but Gordon lamented this was also delayed.

PhilHealth has said it has available funds to settle its remaining debt, but has asked the Department of Justice to review its memorandum of agreement with the PRC. It said it will wait for DOJ’s legal opinion “for proper legal guidance on how to proceed with its payment to the PRC.”

Newly appointed PhilHealth President and CEO Dante Gierran earlier said the MOA signed by his predecessor, Ricardo Morales, and Gordon for a ₱100-million revolving fund for the COVID-19 testing violated procurement laws. He added that PhilHealth should be charged a lower amount since the cost of each polymerase chain reaction or PCR test has dropped to ₱3,409 each, from ₱3,500 stated in the MOA, due to more supply in the market.

Gordon said the PRC can bring down the testing cost up to ₱3,000 if its supplier from China would give a discount. Since the outbreak began, the PRC has facilitated over a million coronavirus tests, one-fourth of the country’s testing capacity.