Malacañang on Thursday assured that the swab testing of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) would not be affected by the decision of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) to stop conducting tests that are being charged to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the PNRC’s decision would hamper the country’s testing efforts but noted that there are now more laboratories capable of testing Covid-19 samples besides the Department of Health – Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM).
Roque cited 112 laboratories capable of conducting reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and 35 GeneXpert laboratories.
“Huwag naman po mag-alala ang ating mga kababayan. Makakapasok pa rin po lahat ng OFWs because as I said, dati iisa lang ang ating testing facility – RITM. Ngayon po, 112 RT-PCR laboratories, and 35 GeneXpert laboratories. So makakapasok at makakapasok po ang mga umuuwing OFWs (Our countrymen should not worry. OFWs may still enter the country because as I said, we used to have only one testing facility – RITM. Now we have 112 RT-PCR laboratories and 35 GeneXpert laboratories. So returning OFWs will still be allowed to enter the country),” he said in a Palace press briefing.
In a statement, the PNRC said it would stop conducting PhilHealth-funded tests after the state insurer failed to settle its outstanding balance of PHP930.99 million.
The PNRC has stopped receiving samples of returning OFWs, those arriving in airports and seaports, those in mega swabbing facilities, and front-line health and government workers.
Roque said private laboratories in the country could also handle testing of Covid-19 samples in airports and seaports.
“Kung mawawala po yung mga serbisyo ng PNRC sa ating airport, sa ating pantalan, pupuwede naman pong palitan for the time being ng mga pribado or other public testing centers (If we lose PNRC services in airports and seaports, they can be replaced for the time being by private or other public testing centers),” he added.
Roque, meanwhile, expressed hope that the problem between PNRC and PhilHealth would be resolved, noting that the government wants to test as many people as possible.
“I do hope that the problem will be resolved because our goal is to have more people tested rather than less,” he said.
Citing Chief Implementer of the country’s National Policy Against Covid-19, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Roque acknowledged that the PNRC has been a “major partner” of the government in conducting Covid-19 tests.
“I am not denying the fact that the Red Cross was our major partner, particularly in testing, because they have already surpassed the one million tests. So gaya nga ng sabi ni Secretary Galvez (Like Secretary Galvez said), at least one-fourth of our total tests were done by the PNRC,” he said.
Roque also apologized to the PNRC for PhilHealth’s failure to settle its outstanding balance, saying the PNRC’s decision would be a “big loss” to the country’s testing capacity.
“So humihingi po ako ng pasensiya sa (I’m apologizing to the) PNRC, on behalf of the President,” he said.
Roque also said he would raise the matter before PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Gierran.
“Bagamat one-fourth ang testing na conducted by PNRC at marami na po tayong mga licensed RT-PCR at GeneXpert laboratories, siyempre kinakailangan pa rin natin ang PNRC kung gusto pa rin natin ma-meet yung ating target na 10 million tests (Although one-fourth is the testing conducted by PNRC and we already have many licensed RT-PCR and GeneXpert laboratories, of course, we still need PNRC if we still want to meet our target of 10 million tests),” he said.
Galvez, meanwhile, said National Task Force on Covid-19 Chairman Delfin Lorenzana, Gierran, and PNRC Chief Richard Gordon are already trying to resolve the issue.
He also expressed confidence that the problem would be resolved “immediately.” (PNA)