Drilon warns PhilHealth: ‘We are watching you’

Franklin Drilon PhilhealthSenate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon welcomed the decision of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to lower the price of its COVID-19 test package by 50 percent, but insisted that the health insurance agency should peg the price instead at P3,500, the amount it pays to the Philippine Red Cross that has conducted 45 percent of COVID-19 tests in the country as of today.

The PhilHealth scaled down the price of its COVID-19 test package from P8,150 to P4,210 following the public uproar over the overpriced package led by Drilon, who vehemently questioned the overpriced package amounting to P8,150 per test as he feared of potential loss from taxpayers’ money of around P8.3 billion.

“If COVID-19 tests could be done for as low as P3,500 as proven by Red Cross, which emerged as the lead testing center for COVID-19, then there is no justification for higher rates set by PhilHealth,” Drilon said in a statement on Friday.

It was also Drilon who revealed that the complete cost structure of the package showed questionable expenses, which, if removed, could bring down the cost by more than half.

“Why would the PhilHealth have different prices for the same test? I am glad that PhilHealth listened to us,” he added.

If it were for Drilon, however, he said PhilHealth could instead peg the price at P3,500, the same amount it pays to Red Cross for every test.

“Upon a thorough review and a careful analysis of the market costs of the materials used for COVID-19 test, I believe the standard price of COVID-19 test in the country should be at P3,500. Why not use Red Cross rates as benchmark and reduce the rates for another P700,” Drilon stressed.

He noted that the test kit could be purchased for as low as $15 or P750.00. For the targetted two million tests, Drilon said the new rate of P4,210 will still result in potential loss of P1.4 billion.

“Philhealth should look at lowering it to P3500, or perhaps even lower. I have heard that some institutions can do it at as low as P2000,” he added.

“This is a victory for better governance and anticorruption drive. Our triumph has proven that our collective voice is stronger than ever. It is critical to be more vigilant against corrupt practices during the time of a pandemic,” Drilon stressed.

He added: “This should be a lesson to PhilHealth and the government in general: We are watching you.”

Drilon said that the development means that more people can be tested for free.

“Baka ngayon po ay kaya na ng gobyerno ang libreng mass testing,” he added.

Meanwhile, Drilon doubted claims made by PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales at the Senate Committee on Whole hearing on the global pandemic that no actual payments were made to hospitals and testing centers.

Drilon cited a press release that was posted in the agency’s website claiming that the health insurance agency downloaded P30 billion last March to its accredited hospitals “to help them respond to the onslaught of COVID-19 in the country.”

The amount, which used its interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), is equivalent to three months’ worth of claims based on historical data, which will be charged to their future claims, Drilon said citing PhilHealth’s pronouncements.

“IRM is a ‘prepaid’ system. Before this latest development, accredited hospitals were already charging to the downloaded fund the cost of testing at a price tag of P8,150,“ Drilon explained.

Drilon urged PhilHealth to recover overpayments to hospitals which were given advance payments for COVID-19 test.