By: Keith Calayag

The Department of Health (DoH) is negotiating with private laboratories that can test overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which used to test returning OFWs, stopped testing OFWs because of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s (PhilHealth) failure to pay its debt.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. on Monday said the DoH was in talks with eight private laboratories regarding the testing of OFWs.

He added that the government was willing to pay the Red Cross half of PhilHealth’s debt outright, but the humanitarian agency insisted on a full payment.

He said PhilHealth had assured the private laboratories they would be paid so long as they would comply with requirements.

“‘Wag po kayo mag-alala, hindi po kayo ma-pi-PRC da-hil subject naman talaga po for reimbursement ng PhilHealth ang test to be given to OFWs (Don’t worry, you will not suffer the same fate as PRC because Covid-19 tests for OFWs are subject to reimbursement),” Roque said, addressing the private labs.

At least two lawyers from PhilHealth reported to its board that the memorandum of agreement with PRC on Covid-19 testing gave preferential treatment to the Red Cross.

But, according to the legal opinion from the Department of Justice (DoJ), there was no “impediment” in the agreement.

The DoJ opinion, portions of which were read by Roque in the briefing, stated that PhilHealth is authorized to enter into a contract with any institution for the delivery of health services such as Covid-19 testing.

Roque said the DoJ refused to comment on the query on whether PhilHealth is legally obligated to immediately pay PRC.