BY WENDELL VIGILIA and GERARD NAVAL
A JOINT committee of the House of Representatives yesterday approved its committee report recommending the filing of charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and CEO Ricardo Morales and other officials.
The charges stemmed from the alleged anomalous interim reimbursement mechanism, the all-case rates system, and supposed irregularities in the insurer’s IT system.
Meanwhile, PhilHealth released P500 million as partial payment to the Philippine Red Cross.
The state insurer last week said payment will be made on Monday, October 26.
“(We) will expedite processing of the remaining balance following strict compliance to government accounting rules and regulations,” said PhilHealth president and CEO Dante Gierran in a statement last night.
Gierran said the delay in payment is proof that PhilHealth is not being reckless in handling its members’ money.
“PhilHealth’s prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer. Its exercise of judiciousness is to protect the people and their funds,” said Gierran.
PhilHealth owes Red Cross P930 million as of October 15 when the humanitarian organization stopped processing COVID tests charged to PhilHealth because of depleting resources. As of this week, PRC said PhilHealth’s debt has risen to at least P1 billion.
At the House, the joint committee on public accounts chaired by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor and committee on good government and public accountability chaired by Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado adopted the committee report after a series of hearings into allegations of massive graft and corruption in the state health insurer.
The joint panel voted to reject Alvarado’s motion to spare members of the PhilHealth board from the list of persons that panel wants charged by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Alvarado said board members are in charge only of adopting PhilHealth’s policies.
Implementation of the policies, he said, is the job of the executive committee whose members were recommended by the joint panel to be charged.
The other officials who were recommended to be charged are executive vice president and COO Arnel de Jesus; senior vice presidents Israel Francis Pargas, Renato Limsiaco, and Rodolfo del Rosario Jr.; and, Rogelio Pocallan, senior manager for internal legal department who was detained at the House for four days after being cited in contempt.
Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun said sparing the board members would be a mistake because it would absolve them of any possible liability even if these are not the same cases as the ones to be filed against of the executive committee.
Deputy speaker Dan Fernandez of Laguna said the joint committee should not be too lenient as to spare the PhilHealth board and it is “incumbent upon us to set an example.”
Aside from Duque who is also chairman of the PhilHealth board, the board of directors also includes Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
The joint panel eventually decided to just recommend separate charges against the board members and the members of the executive committee based on individual findings.
Congressmen have been urging new PhilHealth president Dante Gierran to scrap the all-case or package rates system and the internal reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
They said the state insurer should reimburse hospitals and other healthcare facilities only the “actual cost” of treatment and hospitalization of patients, and to set the case rates as “cost limits.”
IRM is a system under which PhilHealth pays hospitals and other healthcare facilities in advance for the insurance claims of PhilHealth members, to ensure their liquidity during crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the joint hearings, lawmakers established that the IRM is a source of massive graft and corruption in the agency, like the all-case rates system.
PhilHealth officials are facing malversation charges as they released funds through the IRM to hospitals or health facilities that do not accept coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) cases.
“In what is arguably the most notorious instance of corruption to date that is connected to the corporation, PhilHealth officials involved in the illegal disbursement of public funds through this mechanism anchor their defense on blurry interpretations of the law, none of which will hold water in court,” the committee report said.
The joint panel also recommended the filing of graft and even plunder charges against some PhilHealth officials and their accomplices for giving Cebu City’s Perpetual Succour Hospital P78 million in IRM funds despite having been found guilty violating PhilHealth law for two counts of deliberately extending the confinement period of a patient.
PhilHealth’s Prosecution Department decided to suspend the hospital for three months and with a fine of P10,000 which the Court of Appeals affirmed, dismissing Perpetual Succour’s appeal.
However, the PhilHealth board issued a resolution reversing the suspension and ordering the hospital to just pay a P100,000 fine which did not sit well with the joint panel since it was done after Pocallan issued a legal opinion that PhilHealth can reverse CA decisions even if these are final and executory.
Sen. Richard Gordon, Red Cross chairman, said it is a big puzzle as to why PhilHealth keeps delaying the payment.
“I don’t see any cogent reason why they should delay… We are forced to wait. Last payment was 50 days ago. Bill now is P1,061,622,000. Why not pay? They have the money,” he said before PhilHealth announced last night the P500-million payment.
Gordon said he can only surmise that new PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran has become “very careful” in releasing money for fear he will be the one investigated after Duterte’s his term.
“Ang naririnig kong sinasabi niya, hearsay ito ha, ‘Pag umalis ang Presidente, bagong administrasyon, ako ang iimbestigahan. So dapat maingat ako. Sobrang ingat… Sobra ngang ingat para sa kaniya, sobrang reckless para sa mga tao na hindi mate-test (What I have been hearing, and this is just hearsay, ‘If the President steps down after his term, then a new administration enters, I will be the one to be investigated. So I must be very careful.’ He is very careful alright, but it becomes reckless on the part of the people who are not tested for the virus),” he said.
Gordon said he thinks Gierran do not know who to trust. “Like a new guy on the block surrounded by all kinds of snakes, jackals and hyenas, natatakot siya (he is afraid),” he said.
Gordon said PhilHealth has paid PRC P1.6 billion as of September 25, which he said were for earlier tests the organization did during the first months of the pandemic.
OVERPRICED TEST KITS
Gordon said PhilHealth has bought overpriced COVID-19 test kits during the early outbreak of the COVID-19, and insisted that Red Cross to use those.
“Pinipilit nila sa amin tanggapin yung mga binili nila na talagang… ang dami-dami baka mag-expire at sabihin ko na, overpriced. Overpriced. Pinipilit nila sa amin. I don’t want to be involved in anything that is overpriced baka mamaya pati kasama pa (They were forcing us to accept it, the ones which they bought… several of them might expire and, let me tell this, they are overpriced. Overpriced, They are forcing it to us. I don’t want to be involved in anything that is overpriced for fear that we might be later implicated),” Gordon said.
Gordon said it was also reported that some private laboratories which charge high COVID-19 tests are also present at airports in Cebu and Clark.
He said the lack of COVID-19 testing conducted by PRC has opened the opportunity for private laboratories to charge very high fees, which he said range from P7,000 to P20,000.
“Originally, they would charge them P4,500 now they are charging P10,000 for (results to be out in) 24 hours. If you want it shorter than that, you pay 20k,” Gordon said as he showed a receipt (No. 040293) which charged an individual P10,000 for the CIVID-19 test dated October 19.
The receipt had the laboratory name “Eco Application Solutions Philippines Incorporated” with office address of 3/F Pairpags Center, NAIA Avenue, Barangay 198, Pasay City.
The OCTA Research Team said Red Cross accounts for about 30 percent of the total COVID-19 testing capacity of the country and without its participation in the testing process, “our public health authorities and pandemic management teams are made blind because of less accurate information.”
“Without the leading facilities provided by the PRC, our isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing programs are crippled because the LGUs do not know whether or not a person is infected with COVID-19 within the 24-48 hour time period required,” it added.
In the National Capital Region alone, OCTA said, the PRC tests account for about 38 percent of the total capacity.
“We estimate that with the missing PRC data, the actual reproduction number in NCR is R = 0.72,” said OCTA while noting that the current R naught in the NCR is 0.63.
“If PRC tests results are included, the average daily new cases in NCR from October 11 will increase by 200 to 300 (estimated),” it added. — With Raymond Africa