MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) signed on Nov. 24 the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) for setting the price range for reverse transcription-polymerase reaction (RT-PCR) testing for Covid-19.

The JAO is pursuant to Executive Order No. 118 of President Rodrigo Roa-Duterte ordering the agencies to implement a price range for Covid-19 testing.

During the DOH Media Forum on November 25, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said this price range will promote quality, equitable access, and affordability to COVID-19 testing.

“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 in a news release.

Meanwhile, DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez stressed the importance of regulating the testing prices as the country resumes economic activity.

“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," Lopez said.

According to the 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.

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 amid current developments.

When asked why the government imposed a price range instead of a price cap, Duque said the President’s EO, DOH, and DTI were directed to determine and implement a price range for Covid-19 testing.

He 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, Duque said the 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 pagpapatupad ng price range, ang ating pagiging BIDA Solusyon ang pinakamagandang regalo ng kalusugan, kaligtasan, at kinabukasan para sa lahat (This is for us to protect not only ourselves but of course our loved ones. In line with the implementation of the price range, our BIDA Solusyon is the best gift for our health, safety and for everyone's welfare),” Duque said.

Lopez 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.

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. (PR)