FIRING LINE: PhilHealth’s state of health

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) face another series of legislative inquiries on fresh corruption allegations against its officials — for the nth time.

PhilHealth officers may have gotten used to attending congressional probes for various charges over the years. Some of them have been repeatedly accused, quizzed, and charged, but they never learn.

Remember the ghost dialysis scandal in 2019, and the P150-billion funds reportedly missing last June? Just how many times have they been subjected to severe congressional grilling, I’ve lost count!

Fraud allegations have consistently hounded PhilHealth, and the cycle never ends. Yes, even in this time of the pandemic.

The new revelation came last Thursday, following a heated Zoom meeting among the state agency’s officials.

Soon after, PhilHealth’s anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith filed his resignation. Two more officers reportedly followed suit, with Keith citing widespread corruption in the agency and other reasons for quitting his post.

After Keith’s resignation, new corruption allegations against PhilHealth surfaced, including the agency’s alleged overpriced P2-billion information and technology project and its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) meant to support the government’s response against COVID-19 crisis.

AnaKalusugan Party-list Representative Mike Defensor’s House Committee on Public Accounts would conduct a motu-proprio investigation on these issues.

Senator Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Tito Sotto filed on Monday Senate Resolution No. 475 to probe the “alleged rampant corruption, incompetence, and inefficiency” in PhilHealth.

It would include the IRM, through which PhilHealth has the authority to provide special privilege in the form of substantial aid to eligible Health Care Institutions (HCIs).

In a radio interview, Lacson revealed that the agency released P207 million to a few non-accredited hospitals in Region 5 in a matter of two weeks, and another P196 million to Region 8 in just a week. These occurred while many hospitals with several COVID-19 patients in other regions were pleading for reimbursements from PhilHealth.

For this and other corruption allegations that Keith was expected to disclose, Lacson wanted erring PhilHealth officials jailed this time.

In his two-page letter to PhilHealth President-CEO Ricardo Morales dated July 26, he accused the state agency’s chief of being the “coddler or the new leader of the syndicate in PhilHealth”.

Aside from these legislative inquiries, Malacanang ordered the Office of the Special Assistant to the President to investigate the agency’s alleged overpriced IT project.

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PhilHealth is sick to the bone. Continuing its series of purported fraud schemes during a pandemic is horrific. Apparently, it remains infected by the virus called corruption.

Are we only capable of “medicating” PhilHealth to treat the symptoms of corruption? Isn’t there a vaccine that could prevent a recurrence of this financial and moral virus?

I am eager to see these questions answered in a Senate or House hearing, or in a Palace probe.

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