The Department of Health took action and ordered PhilHealth to formulate and devise a plan that involves covering the costs of patients' saliva-based RT-PCR testing.
In a memorandum released by the DOH on March 31, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth is tasked "to develop the appropriate payment and provider engagement mechanisms" for a saliva-based RT-PCR test.
"No additional payment shall be charged to patients beyond the PhilHealth coverage for the conduct of saliva-based RT-PCR testing," according to the document by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The Philippine Red Cross launched the use of the saliva test in January after the approval of the government. The organization hopes that more Filipino would now avail the cheaper and non-invasive process as PhilHealth is to cover all the expenses.
"PhilHealth can now pay Red Cross for the saliva RT-PCR and it can be done really fast," Senator Richard Gordon, PCR chairman, said on CNN Philippines.
The Philippine Red Cross offers the saliva RT-PCR test at half the price of the swab test at only Php 2,000. The process manages to also minimize the exposure of healthcare workers, as patients only have to spit at least 2 to 3 ml of saliva on a properly labeled, graduated, sterile, and wide-mouth container.
According to the DOH guidelines, health care workers can guarantee to properly collect the specimens from a distance of one meter in an open or well-ventilated area.
The DOH noted in a statement that only the licensed laboratories certified by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or RITM are allowed to supervise the saliva-based testing by using government-approved test kits. Further, the nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal or NPS and OPS swabs still remain as the "standard specimen" needed for the detection of the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the RT-PCR testing.
"Proper collection procedure should also be strictly observed where patients should not eat, drink, brush their teeth, use mouthwash or smoke for at least 30 minutes before sample collection," the DOH said.
Amid the surge of positive cases of COVID-19, the use of saliva testing will expand the country's testing capacity. Since Tuesday, PH has recorded 152,562 active COVID-19 cases.
Source: CNN Philippines