Swab tests still free for OFWs: Palace

MANILA – Swab testing for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remains free of charge, Malacañang said Monday following reports that some Filipinos arriving from abroad were asked to pay PHP20,000 for faster release of their coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) test results.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque assured that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will be shouldering the cost of all OFWs’ reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

“Libre ang mga OFWs, ang magbabayad po niyan OWWA (Testing for OFWs is free, the OWWA will pay for the cost),” he said in a Palace press briefing.

He said all OFWs’ tests are subject to reimbursement by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

“Subject naman talaga po for reimbursement ng PhilHealth ang test to be given to OFWs, at lahat naman po ng mga private labs providers know how they can collect from PhilHealth (Tests to be given to OFWs is really a subject for PhilHealth reimbursement, and all the private labs providers know how they can collect from PhilHealth),” he said.

PhilHealth currently has an overdue balance of over PHP930 million to Philippine Red Cross (PRC) for Covid-19 testing of OFWs and other individuals.

The state health insurer said it would settle its obligations to PRC by Monday.

But even if the PhilHealth fails to pay the PRC, Roque reassured the public that there are many public and private laboratories capable of accepting Covid-19 swab samples including the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM) and Philippine General Hospital.

“Dinadala natin iyan sa mga government laboratories kagaya ng Lingad diyan po sa Pampanga dahil malaki rin ang kapasidad nila at mayroon ding mga government labs na nagti-test diyan – RITM, PGH (We take them to government laboratories like Lingad in Pampanga because they also have a large capacity and there are also government labs that test there — RITM, PGH),” he said.

He said PRC’s decision to stop conducting tests that are being charged to the PhilHealth will not affect free testing for OFWs.

“Marami naman po, hindi dahilan para tuluyang matigil ang testing ng mga OFWs dahil tumigil ang testing ng Red Cross,” he said.

Meanwhile, Roque also announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) opined PhilHealth’s advance payment for PRC’s Covid-19 testing services required the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Under the memorandum of agreement (MOA), PhilHealth reportedly made an advance payment of PHP100 million to the PRC for Covid-19 testing services, despite Philippine laws mandating reimbursements instead.

Last Sunday, PNRC Chair and Senator Richard Gordon bared that passengers have been complaining about fees asked for Covid-19 tests.

He said passengers are being diverted to testing booths that charge higher fees because there are entities who take commissions out of these tests.

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