Local Roundup: • ICU data glitch • Saliva test • PhilHealth mess

The Philippines logged on Thursday 1,337 new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, bringing the total to 413,430, as 11 laboratories failed to submit their data and an error cited in one of its earlier reports, the Department of Health said.

“The sudden increase in ICU bed occupancy (53 percent) in the November 17 Case Bulletin was due to a data entry error from one facility,” the DOH also admitted.

The entry has been corrected for November 18, thereby reflecting a more accurate ICU bed occupancy (42 percent), the DOH said.

The DOH also reported that they have 30,493 active cases, which is 7.4 percent of the total number of cases. Of the active cases, 84.5 percent are mild; 8 percent are asymptomatic; 4.7 percent are critical; 2.5 percent are severe; and 0.21 percent are moderate.

Top cities and provinces with new cases are Davao City, 110; Laguna, 74; Quezon City, 66; Batangas, 54; and Manila, 53.

Saliva test

The Philippine Red Cross is still waiting for government approval for the use of its saliva COVID-19 test, Sen. Richard Gordon said Thursday.

Gordon said they coordinated with the University of Illinois, where the test was made, and the UP College of Medicine in conducting a validation study on the new coronavirus test, Gordon said.

The saliva test, he said, was cheaper compared with the swab test, and the result could be obtained faster.

Gordon said the saliva test was already being done in other countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and even Japan.

New expenses

The Philippine Red Cross has so far received a total P800 million from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) as payment for the latter’s outstanding balance of P1.1 billion for COVID-19 tests, Gordon said.

Gordon said that aside from the P500 million that the state health insurer initially paid last month, it has settled P300 million more on a staggered basis.

In mid-October, the PRC halted conducting COVID-19 tests that are chargeable to PhilHealth due to the latter’s growing debt.

Almost two weeks later, PhilHealth settled half of its obligations to the humanitarian organization.

Financial hit

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto debunked concerns that Philhealth was taking a financial hit after it was revealed that of its P140 billion operating budget, only P3.4 billion has so far been spent for the testing and treatment of PhilHealth members.

Recto said the data on Philhealth’s COVID-19-related reimbursements was revealed during the Senate debate on the Department of Health’s 2021 budget.

This was confirmed by DOH officials to Sen. Pia Cayetano, vice chair of the Senate finance panel on health agencies, after Recto asked how much PhilHealth had paid for COVID-19 reimbursements.

Recto said PhilHealth’s overall payouts might even be lower this year due to lower hospital admissions. “When it comes to seeking medical treatments, people are postponing them. They’ve become risk-averse.”

“There is also a dip in reimbursements from victims of vehicular accidents. This is just Anecdotal. But there is no reason to doubt the observation that less traffic on the roads leads to fewer accidents,” he added.

Reserve fund

As of September this year, PhilHealth had a reserve fund of P108.4 billion, and a separate P28.6 billion for lifetime members.

In the same hearing, Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao asked how the agency could fight the pandemic and prepare the country “in nursing the battle scars when this crisis comes to pass,” given the “terrible” cut in the DOH budget next year.

Cayetano responded, saying while the DOH was satisfied with its budget for the COVID-19 response, it had no budget for the supply chain-related expenses such as storage of the vaccines, transportation, training of inoculators and other incidental expenses.

UHC funding

Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson prodded DOH officials to issue the guidelines for implementing funding appropriations for the Universal Healthcare program so that P17.3 billion could be remitted to fund the program.

Lacson, during the hybrid plenary deliberation on the P212.7 billion proposed budget of DOH for 2021, said the guideline is required before the Bureau of Treasury could release P17.3 billion to Philhealth or 50 percent of the P34.6 billion remitted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) in 2019.

Topics: Department of Health , Philippine Red Cross , COVID-19 , Ralph Recto , Philippine Health Insurance Corp
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