Increasing the COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction testing fee from $50 to $300 for outbound passengers places an undue burden on people, most especially on medical referral patients who are already in a state of need, according to Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota).
Santos appealed Tuesday to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther L. Muña and the CHCC management to reconsider their decision and instead maintain the old fee of $50 per test.
“We must not forget that other ailments have not stopped for COVID-19,” said the senator in her letter to Muña.
CCC does not necessarily require outbound passengers to obtain PCR testing, but advised that other countries where they may visit need such a test. Also, CHCC cited an increasing number of people going on non-essential travel and asking to be tested, which puts an added strain on CHCC’s resources, to explain the fee increase.
Santos said the Medical Referral Program continues to receive patients in need of off-island medical care, sometimes in destinations requiring patients to undergo COVID-19 testing prior to their arrival. Therefore, she pointed out, for certain patients, PRC testing is requirement of their treatment.
At $300 per test, Santos said, the testing fee exceeds the level of assistance given to Medical Referral patients as well as their escorts, whose stipends have been suspended since March this year. Santos said insurance providers offer no relief from this fee as both public and private insurance do not cover COVID-19 testing. In sum, she said, the $300 fee poses a significant barrier to health care access to Medical Referral patients.
“It is important that we do our best increase access to health care for our residents, especially during the current public health emergency,” Santos said.
The senator did praise CHCC for their “tremendous efforts during the current public health emergency.”
Despite the constant threat of COVID-19, the CNMI community remain safe, she said, largely because of the dedicated staff and management of CHCC and the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force.