PhilHealth to shoulder coronavirus test costs – Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines – Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Wednesday, March 11, said the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will shoulder costs for the testing of the novel coronavirus disease called COVID-19 in hospitals. 

Nograles said this will be on top of PhilHealth’s coverage of expenses for quarantine and isolation of patients infected with the disease. 

He added PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales said the agency was "in the process of formalizing and operationalizing" the new measure. 

Nograles said the move was done in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders for government to combat the coronavirus crisis. The measure, he added, would also be done to aid citizens in getting tested, as procedures may cost some P3,000 to P5,000 each. 

Coping with the outbreak: As the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines continues to rise, health officials have been placed under scrutiny for the lack of test kits.  

The Research Institute on Tropical Medicine (RITM), which is the Philippines' sole laboratory accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test novel coronavirus samples, earlier said there were only some only 2,000 kits available on hand. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since approved the use of COVID-19 test kits developed by University of the Philippines (UP) scientists. The additional kits are expected to aid in field testing for the disease. 

The kits developed by UP will also be coupled with gene sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center.  

Nograles gave assurances the government was “working overtime” to ensure there would be enough tests to quickly identify those infected with the coronavirus. 

Specifically, he said research and development company Manila Healthtek was developing a “rapid diagnostic test kit” for COVID-19, which set for for a field validation study. The Philippine General Hospital, Nograles added, has also agreed to support the study. 

“At this point, they just need to conduct validation of 500 tests for COVID-19 to enable them to conduct clinical sensitivity analysis as a pre-condition set by the FDA. Once it passes the clinical tests, the FDA will grant full access by all hospitals, as guided by the DOH,” Nograles said. 

Aside from this, Nograles said private hospitals have also signaled interest to join field validation studies, though this would be subject to the approval of an ethics committee, which may come by Friday, March 13.

As of Wednesday, the Philippines recorded 33 confirmed coronavirus cases. The confirmed cases include two patients who were in "very critical condition" and the first death recorded outside China – a Chinese tourist from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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