Testing for coronavirus disease is free – Duque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 11) – Patients with suspected COVID-19 do not have to pay the costs of testing for the viral infection, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday.

"Yung pagsusuri ng specimen, yung nose and throat swabs, libre po ito," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III responded to Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago during a House hearing on measures undertaken to contain the illness in the country.

[Translation: The tests run on the patient's nose and throat swabs are free.]

This was confirmed by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who is also a member of the inter-agency task force for the management of emerging infectious diseases.

Duque said the state health insurer will to a certain extent cover their members' medical costs associated with COVID-19. The disease is caused by SARS CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus.

Each member of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation could avail of a health package worth ₱14,000, he added.

He said a PhilHealth member diagnosed to have moderate pneumonia is entitled to a medical coverage worth ₱16,000. Meanwhile, once the beneficiary developed severe pneumonia, hospitals could charge PhilHealth up to ₱32,000, he added.

Currently, each coronavirus test kit costs around ₱8,000. A patient will have to undergo tests at least three times. Aside from the confirmatory test, a COVID-19 patient must be tested twice before being discharged from the hospital.

On Tuesday, the food and drug regulator issued a certificate allowing the use of the COVID-19 detection kit developed last month by scientists from the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health.

The new kit is set for field validation study, which will be supported by the Philippine General Hospital and the University of the Philippines' National Institutes for Health (UP NIH), Nograles said, citing Dr. Raul Destura, the inventor of the kit.

“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,” the official added.

Nograles also said some private hospitals have intended to join the study, so the UP NIH could secure approval by the NIH's ethics committee by Friday.

Duque said he was told the test kits are 95-percent accurate and reliable, but admitted he has yet to read an official report about them.

He added the kit needs to go through the vetting process of the World Health Organization.

However, WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe told lawmakers they have not been made aware of the FDA-approved kits yet.