SEN. Richard Gordon yesterday lashed out at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for not keeping its word to pay its debt to the Philippine Red Cross.
In a text message to reporters, Gordon, who also chairs the PRC, said no payment has been received by their office as of 2 p.m. Monday.
A check with Gordon’s office showed there was still no payment as of 6 p.m. yesterday.
There was also no word from PhilHealth which has said it would pay Red Cross P930 million yesterday.
The P930 was what the state insurer owed Red Cross as of October 15 when the agency decided to process all COVID-19 tests charged to PhilHealth because of depleted test kits and other testing materials.
PRC processes up to 25 percent of the daily COVID tests being conducted by government. Returning Filipino workers are among the most affected in the ongoing squabble between PhilHealth and the Red Cross.
“PhilHealth owes PRC P1.1 billion already. No payment as yet in spite of their numerous announcements that they will pay,” Gordon said.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Gordon said the PRC will accept the P930 million offered by PhilHealth so it can procure test kits to enable it to resume COVID-19 tests on individuals referred by the state insurer. He also said he wants the total debt settled in three days, and for PhilHealth to pay for services every three days, based on their contract.
Gordon yesterday said the PRC needs money not only to buy test kits but as operational expenses because the organization is also operating laboratories in Batangas, Clark, Cebu, Negros islands, Zamboanga, and Cagayan de Oro.
“So far we have lost money in all of them but we need to test there. Otherwise, COVID might go everywhere,” he said.
Gordon said although the PRC’s test kits are almost depleted, it managed to conduct COVID-19 tests on healthcare workers at Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Center in Manila after hospital staff were exposed to COVID-19 patients.
“At the moment we are almost out of test kits. To replenish, we need to be paid,” Gordon said.
In anticipation of the payment yesterday, Gordon said the PRC charted a flight to China for Tuesday, for them to buy test kits which he said are always paid in cash, and which will amount to $6 million to $8 million.
He said PRC will be forced to cancel the chartered flight if no payment is made.
“We sadly note that PhilHealth keeps giving excuses on such a serious and critical matter.
First they say they want to be sure the contract is okay. They needed DBM (Department of Budget and Management). The President told them to pay. Then it was referred to DOJ who told them the contract is valid and they must pay,” he said.
“How can we test if we do not recover our costs? PRC prays we do not get a severe spike. USA, UK, France, Russia, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands are all getting really bashed by COVID,” he added.
Gordon said PhilHealth violated the contract it entered with the PRC.
“PhilHealth has been perfidious, reckless and they have been in violation of the contract so many times. PRC covered the first humongous wave of people to be tested. PhilHealth should be ashamed of themselves for betraying our vulnerable people. They have been cheating the people since they started operations (by) overcharging and overpaying. Those who have been cheating before COVID are still there. PhilHealth is playing with people’s lives. A lot more people may be spreading COVID because of the severe lack of testing,” Gordon said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said he was wondering why PhilHealth has not paid when it said it has more than P100 billion for its disposal, as what senators discovered during the Senate Committee of the Whole investigation on the state insurer’s anomalies last August.
“I am also wondering why PhilHealth is sometimes delayed with its payments to some hospitals, while it is very prompt with others,” Angara told a TV interview.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration reminded returning Filipino workers that testing is free.
“I would like to relay that the RT-PCR swab testing at the NAIA for arriving OFWs are for free,” OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said in Filipino in his Twitter account.
He asked the returning OFWs to entertain private laboratories.
OWWA issued the reminder after Gordon said he has received complaints about OFWs encouraged to go to private testing centers based in airports, and which charge much higher for swab tests, ranging from P7,000 to P20,000 per test.
Cacdac also said due to delays in processing of COVID tests, OWWA is spending at least P9,000 more per OFW for extended accommodation in hotels.
“More or less, they extend for three more days in their hotel rooms. So if we spend P3,000 per day for hotels, we have P9,000 added costs for their hotel stay,” said Cacdac.
This, he said, does not even include other types of assistance OWWA provides, such as food and other basic necessities.
Currently, Cacdac said some 5,200 OFWs are quarantined in different hotels accredited by OWWA.
“These are those that arrived from October 21 onwards. Those that arrived from October 15 of more or less 7,000, we have already brought them home over the last four days,” said Cacdac.
OWWA estimates that some 1,000 to 1,300 OFWs are arriving daily.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Department of Health is talking with eight private medical laboratories to carry out the testing and processing of COVID-19 tests of returning overseas workers.
He also said the PRC should resume its services while the payment issue is being settled.
Roque said pending the settlement of the debt, the DOH has been looking at measures to cushion the impact of the PRC’s suspension of services like the tapping of eight private laboratories to do PRC’s job.
Roque said the testing of returning OFWs and overseas Filipinos continues to be administered by the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fire Protection members but the samples are brought to government- or DOH-accredited facilities and laboratories. — With Gerard Naval and Jocelyn Montemayor