The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) announced on Thursday that it would halt free Covid-19 testing for returning overseas Filipino workers, medical frontliners and Filipinos eligible to be tested under the health department’s guidelines due to an outstanding bill worth almost P1 billion owed by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

“This is a difficult decision for a humanitarian organization such as the PRC to make but it has to be made,” PRC said in a statement.

PRC said it would not conduct any free testing until the overdue balance of P930.99 million is paid by PhilHealth.

“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 the PRC,” it added.

The procurement of test kits and reagents from China costs about $6 million per order. PRC was supposed to finance the purchases through a P100-million revolving fund replenished by PhilHealth immediately after being depleted. The state insurer never replenished the fund, it said.

In a statement, PhilHealth said it was in “close coordination with the PRC “to thresh out issues pertaining to the said partnership so the PRC can immediately resume accommodating RT-PCR tests for priority sectors that will be paid for by PhilHealth.”

It also reported that as of September 2020, PhilHealth had paid the PRC a total of P1.6 million for at least 433,263 Covid-19 tests.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the alleged inaction of PhilHealth to replenish the fund came as no surprise due to the internal irregularities within the state insurer.

“Malaking kawalan po iyan kung ititigil nila ang testing for PhilHealth. Pero ako naman po ay kampante na mayroon lang talagang mga internal problema ngayon ang PhilHealth na alam naman nating lahat,” he said in a Palace briefing.

He also apologized on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte and vowed to forward the concern to PhilHealth President Dante Gierran.

“Humihingi po ako ng pasensiya sa PNRC on behalf of the President. At tingin ko naman po, after this press briefing ipararating ko po kay Atty. Gierran, the new president of PhilHealth, itong concern ng Red Cross,” he said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro