Coronavirus Pandemic

Red Cross stops free Covid-19 tests for Filipino expats over govt insurer's debt

Staff Reporter
Filed on October 16, 2020
Covid-19 tests, OFWs, Filipino expats , debt, Red Cross, Manila

Airport authorities in Manila assured that tests will still be conducted for OFWs.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has stopped providing free Covid-19 tests for Filipino expats arriving in Manila because of the government health insurer's nearly Php1-billion (Dh75.5 million) debt.

Since Thursday, October 15, the humanitarian organisation no longer accepted swabs from returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), as well as medical frontliners and others covered by the expanded screening of the Philippines' Department of Health (DoH).

In a statement sent to local media, the Manila International Airport Authority assured that tests will continue to be conducted for OFWs. The Philippine Coast Guard will still be collecting swabs when returning Filipinos arrive at the airport, it said.  

The DoH had also tapped eight hospitals for the testing requirement, as it tries to resolve issues with the PRC, according to another statement.

These hospitals include: Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital; Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center; Lung Center of the Philippines; PNP Crime Laboratory; Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; San Lazaro Hospital; Ospital ng Imus; and Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital.

PhilHealth's debt

Under the PRC's agreement with the state-run PhilHealth, priority Covid-19 tests requested by government agencies were supposed to be reimbursed. By October 13, PhilHealth's total bill  crossed Php1 billion, of which about Php931 million was left unpaid.

"This is a difficult decision to a humanitarian organisation such as the PRC to make but it has to be made. 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," the organisation said in a statement.

Dante Gierran, president and CEO of PhilHealth, had earlier reiterated that the state insurer would pay its debt but asked for some time as he settled into his new position.

Gierran had also requested that the PRC cut its testing fee from Php3,500 to Php3,409.

The PRC had said it was willing to reduce the fee, hoping that PhilHealth would settle the balance. However, "no payment has been made", it said.

'Convenient testing'

Albert Ortega, a Filipino expat in the UAE who recently flew home, said PRC had been "a big help to returning OFWs".

"The process was hassle-free and we got our result within three days. This is crucial in the repatriation process because if Covid-19 test results are promptly released, hotel rooms for quarantine will easily be turned over for other OFWs arriving in the country," Ortega said.

The Philippine government shoulders mandatory tests and quarantine for OFWs.

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