Philhealth probe results to make case for insurer's restructuring

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18) — The results of a two-month probe into alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) would make the case for a restructuring -- or at worst the abolition -- of the beleaguered state-run insurer, House lawmakers said on Sunday.

The House committees on Public Accounts and Good Government are expected to release on Monday their joint findings into the PhilHealth mess, ending an investigation marked by the absence of top PhilHealth executives and by the shift in priority to passing the national budget.

Still, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite and Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, both members of the committee on public accounts, are confident the findings would be enough basis to push for amendments to the Universal Health Care Law.

The Universal Health Care Act, which is meant to provide every Filipino with health insurance, is just two years old.

Funding for the law's implementation is largely administered by PhilHealth. The law also gives PhilHealth, together with the Department of Health, the prerogative to ask Congress for a supplemental budget to meet the law's obligations.

"Napakabilis ni-release 'yung pera ng IRM pero napakabagal nung process ng pag-accounting. Dapat maging accountable talaga ang PhilHealth. At hindi siya payagan na hanggang ngayon, habang may anomalya ay nilalagyan ulit ng pondo mula sa 2021 budget," Brosas told journalists in an Oct. 18 online briefing.

[Translation: Philhealth very quickly released funding for the IRM, but was too slow in properly accounting for the disbursements. Philhealth should be made accountable. And it should not be allowed to get its share of the 2021 budget as long as there are anomalies hounding it.]

Brosas was referring to PhilHealth's Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), an emergency measure intended for coronavirus-infected patients. But some of the ₱30-billion IRM funds allegedly were disbursed to hospitals that did not even treat COVID-19 patients.

PhilHealth also has been under probe for alleged overpricing of IT equipment and systems, as well as on suspicion that top executives manipulated the state health insurer's books.

The National Bureau of Investigation has already filed graft charges against nine PhilHealth officials in early October.

The congressional probe was done in aid of legislation as it is only the judiciary branch that has prosecution powers. President Rodrigo Duterte already ruled out the privatization of PhilHealth and instead ordered its new president and CEO to "cleanse" the institution by yearend.

"Kaya't kung gagatasan lang ito uli ay 'wag na lang. [So if funds will only be siphoned off, then it should stop]. I think there should be a general restructuring and the calls for abolition should be taken seriously," Gaite said.