Angara files bill seeking to provide free COVID-19 tests for all jobseekers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 10) — A lawmaker on Thursday filed a bill that would require the government to shoulder COVID-19 testing for all jobseekers.

Senator Sonny Angara said the current costs of the RT-PCR test, which ranges from ₱3,500 to ₱5,000, is "a big start-up cost" for individuals struggling to find a job when the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the economy.

The price, he noted, already translates to a half-month pay of a minimum wage earner.

"For jobless breadwinners, it is choosing between two sacks of rice or a RT-PCR swab," he was quoted as saying in a statement.

Senate Bill No. 2291 states that while the government earlier clarified that an RT-PCR or antibody-based test is "not recommended nor required" for asymptomatic employees returning to work, the memorandum "does not explicitly prohibit companies in requiring jobseekers to submit a COVID-19 test result as part of the pre-employment process."

Once passed, the bill will require the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to cover the cost of the testing.

"The amount necessary for the initial implementation of this Act shall be charged against the funds of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation," the bill read.

The state-run insurance agency is already providing free COVID-19 testing for its members, but it is limited to at-risk individuals or patients with severe and mild symptoms, especially those with travel history or contact, medical workers, senior citizens, and returning overseas Filipino workers.

"Considering the imperative for the national government to ensure the labor market’s recovery, there is a need for a human-centered policy that actually encourages people to go back to work while cognizant of many changes brought about by the pandemic," Angara said.