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The Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have signed a Joint Administrative Order (JAO) to set the price range for RT-PCR COVID-19 test.
The issuance of JAO No. 2020-0001 signed on November 24, 2020, which is expected to take effect next week, is pursuant to the Executive Order No. 118 of President Rodrigo Roa-Duterte ordering the agencies to implement a price range for Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Reaction (RT-PCR) Testing for COVID-19.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque said the price cap is P3,800 for public laboratories/hospitals and P4,500 to P5,000 for private laboratories, all costs included. At present, some laboratories and hospitals are reportedly charging P8,000 to P12,000 per RT-PCR test depending on the turnaround time of results.
Duque further said that Filipinos would still have to shoulder P300 out of their pockets because PhilHealth will only shoulder P3,409 per test. He emphasized that this price range will promote quality, equitable access and affordability to COVID-19 testing.
Lopez said that there are already offers by companies that are actually lower than the price range set by the government. He said the prices are meant to prevent unscrupulous establishments from jacking up their prices.
“Those are the price caps for public and private hospitals and laboratories but many are below those price ranges, what we are avoiding is the overpricing the upper part of it,” he explained stressing that some hospitals and laboratories are already charging less than P3,500 per RT-PCR test.
In the joint statement, however, it stated that the JAO only covers the price range for plate-based RT-PCR testing. Supplemental guidelines on per item costing and price range of test kits and other testing modalities such as cartridge-based RT-PCR tests, and antigen tests, among others, will also be issued separately.
Lopez stressed the importance of regulating the testing prices as the country resumes economic activity. He cited the wider reopening of the economy of up to 100 percent even in areas under general community quarantine and the easing of age brackets of people allowed to go out to 16 to 65 from 21 to 60. These are all meant to improve consumer spending and boost confidence to spur the economy.
“We have been seeing signs of recovery. And with the increased testing capacity of our country, the demand for testing has also increased. This policy is an opportunity for the government to regulate the prices of testing to make it more affordable and accessible to all Filipinos,” said Lopez.
He, however, said that Metro Manila is still likely to remain under GCQ status in December or the Christmas season.
Further, the Trade Secretary reiterated the government’s call to strictly follow the 7 Commandments of Minimum Health Standards as the country gradually reopens the economy.
“The health and safety of Filipinos remain our top priority, even as we gradually reopen the economy. As emphasized by DOH Sec. Duque, we need to remain vigilant and continue to adhere to the minimum health protocols. This will not only ensure the safety of our countrymen, but also secure their jobs and sources of income,” Lopez said.
“With this Joint Administrative Order, the government seeks to strike a balance of equity, access, and consumer’s choice. In determining the price ranges, we strived to ensure that they are just, equitable, and sensitive to all stakeholders,” Duque said.
According to DOH, public and private licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories were surveyed to determine the price range. Factors such as geographic location, ownership, brand, type of test and extraction machine, facility set-up, and turn-around time were also considered. The JAO also underwent a series of consultations and negotiations, stakeholder reviews, and technical deliberation before coming up with the said guidelines.
Moreover, upon effectivity of the JAO, prices will be made transparent and readily-available for the public to access, and will be subject to monthly monitoring to ensure that it remains fair amidst current developments.
When asked why the government imposed a price range instead of a price cap, Duque stressed that the President’s EO, DOH and DTI were directed to determine and implement a price range for COVID-19 testing. He further added that in coming up with the price range, implementing agencies have to balance equity with access, such that laboratories that are overcharging will lower their prices without going out of business. Provided that the quality of service is maintained, laboratories may charge patients below the reference price.
While the goal of the JAO is to protect Filipinos by making COVID-19 testing accessible, the Secretary stressed that observance of minimum public health standards set to minimize or prevent viral transmission remains critical.
“While the objective of this endeavor is to make COVID-19 testing accessible and affordable to all, I would like to underscore that we need to remain vigilant — strictly adhering to our minimum public health standards of mask wearing, hand hygiene, and physical distancing. Ito po ay upang maprotektahan hindi lang ating mga sarili, kung hindi, lalung lalo na ang mga mahal natin sa buhay. Kasabay ng pagpatupad ng price range, ang ating pagiging BIDA Solusyon ang pinakamagandang regalo ng kalusugan, kaligtasan, at kinabukasan para sa lahat,” the Health Chief emphasized.
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