The government should immediately “release and disperse” the P7.92 billion fund in the 2022 national budget for the government’s COVID-19 Laboratory Network so the current surge in the demand for testing could be met, Senator Joel Villanueva said.
Villanueva said the amount should be “downloaded without delay” to public health facilities so they can cope with the spike in testing requests amid the explosion of omicron cases.
To be able to do this, public hospitals and clinics need to buy and stock up on testing kits and laboratory commodities, Villanueva explained.
The testing fund should be treated like vaccines, he said. “Parang bakuna po iyan. Ipamahagi na po sana agad. It should be wrapped with ‘Do not delay’ markings,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee
Villanueva warned that delaying the release of the P7.92-billion fund lodged with the Department of Health “would be a case of underspending that leads to undertesting, which then leads to undercounting of cases.”
But having the funds at their disposal would allow public health facilities to conduct the testing for free, according to Villanueva.
“PhilHealth should process these claims for reimbursement,” he said.
He said the special provisions governing the use of the P7.92-billion-fund call for the “setting up of swab booths and other operations involving swab specimen collection and antigen rapid diagnostic testing.”
“This can be read as mandate for free swab testing. Explicit po ang sinasabi ng General Appropriations Act: Magtayo ng pop-up testing centers,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva stressed the need for free testing “because for most workers, the public option is the only option.”
“Kung sa pribado pupunta, ang isang essential worker na minimum wage earner ay gagasta nang katumbas ng isang linggo nilang sweldo upang mag-pa-RT-PCR swab,” Villanueva said.
Under a DOH circular that took effect Sept. 6, price caps for RT-PCR tests were set at P3,360 for plate-based and P2,940 for GeneXpert in private laboratories.
In calling for the rapid disbursement of COVID-19 testing funds, Villanueva invoked GAA provisions on how it will be used.
“Klaro na po ang sabi doon sa probisyon na kailangan may sub-allotment agad sa mga DOH regional offices at iba pang mga government laboratories,” Villanueva said.
In addition to the purchase of testing kits and lab commodities, consumables and reagents, the money could be used for the training of swabbers, quality control, recalibration of equipment, and facility maintenance, among others.
Part of the funds will also be given as “assistance” to the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) and UP Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC).