PhilHealth chief mulls taking leave

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    FACED with fresh allegations of fraud and a looming Senate inquiry, the head of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) yesterday said he is considering taking a leave.

    “I’m considering it. It’s just a suggestion. (So) I am considering the suggestion,” said PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales in a virtual press conference.

    As to other PhilHealth officials, who may be asked to go on leave, he said they will have to wait for the formal invitation from the Senate first.

    “We first have to know who are being investigated. Also, if everyone goes on leave, who will be left in the office,” said Morales.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III has said PhilHealth officials may consider going on leave in a bid to show that they have “delicadeza.”

    Sotto’s recommendation comes on the heels of new allegations of corruption and fraud in the state-run health insurer as claimed by a supposed disgruntled employee. The irregularities in the agency have led to the resignation of key officers after a reported shouting match last week.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he and Sotto will file a resolution today asking the appropriate Senate committee to investigate, in aid of legislation, the alleged anomalies in PhilHealth. Lacson said the first hearing might be on Thursday.

    Morales, despite being open to going on leave, said he believes that the constant change in PhilHealth’s leadership is not the key to ending corrupt practices in the agency.

    “(There is that) misplaced belief that replacing the people who run the Corporation will immediately eliminate corruption… In fact, a rapid and wholesale turnover of executives will exacerbate, not mitigate, the problem,” he opined.

    “Resolution will not appear overnight and will require some stability in the organization. Reform does not happen overnight,” he added.

    Morales assumed the top PhilHealth post in June 2019 amid allegations of corruption in the agency, specifically PhilHealth’s payment to dialysis centers for supposed treatment of patients who have died.

    Morales said the overall problem at PhilHealth is “deep-seated and long term.”

    “The problem of fraud and inefficiencies confronting PhilHealth are part of a bigger problem, what management experts call a ‘wicked problem,’” he stressed.

    “(This is) a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for at least four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge; the large number of people and opinions involved; the large economic burden; and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems,” he said.

    ‘DEEPLY HURT’

    A statement from concerned officers and staff of PhilHealth condemned the latest allegations of “widespread corruption.”

    They said they are “deeply hurt” by the latest allegations as most of them have dedicated years of their lives to serve their fellow Filipinos.

    “We, along with dedicated and committed officers and staff of this Corporation, declare that there is no unabated and widespread corruption in PhilHealth. We are deeply hurt by these allegations and insinuations,” said the PhilHealth personnel.

    “These allegations of corruption are floated in social media and planted maliciously in grapevines – venues that leave the accused defenseless and with tarnished reputation. It is unfortunate that a minuscule group of our colleagues chose these venues to express their frustration, disgruntlement and ill-natured personal agenda,” they said.

    Nevertheless, they said they are one with the government in its goal to get rid of corruption in the bureaucracy.

    “We are open to any investigation for alleged anomalies or irregularities we are accused of.

    Any allegations of corruption committed should be investigated, filed in the proper venues and given due process,” said the PhilHealth personnel.

    ‘MORALES SHOULD RESIGN’

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Morales should step down as PhilHealth chief if he cannot disprove the allegations of widespread corruption in the agency.

    Lacson said among the fresh issues hounding PhilHealth is the alleged anomalous implementation of its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, the questionable purchase of P734 million worth of information and communications technology equipment, and its alleged manipulation of financial statements.

    Lacson said Morales has lost credibility and integrity as the PhilHealth chief has often been heard giving different statements in media interviews.

    He said the latest was a recent radio interview where Morales said he was not present during the virtual shouting match between him and PhilHealth officials but presidential spokesman Harry Roque said otherwise.

    “Yan ang malaking problema. Kung sa umpisa pa lang meron ka nang credibility problem dahil nagsisinungaling ka sa napaka-simpleng interview, ang malaking bagay na sasabihin mong walang corruption, lumalabas ngayon at nababasa niyon sa aming ipa-file na resolution bukas, napakaliwanag ng mga allegation (That is the problem. If from the beginning you have credibility problem because you are lying during simple interviews, and you keep on telling there’s no corruption [in your agency]. But it now appears there are, based on the resolution that we file tomorrow, the allegations are very clear),” Lacson said.

    Lacson said all allegations against PhilHealth are documented, and the documents all came from PhilHealth.

    If Morales can “break the credibility” of the documents, Lacson said, it can be concluded that the accusers are just trying to ruin the agency.

    He said the anomalous implementation of PhilHealth’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) involves giving P247 million to three hospitals in the Bicol region, and P196 million to two hospitals in the Eastern Visayas region which only have one COVID patient.

    Lacson said under the IRM, PhilHealth is authorized to provide substantial aid to eligible health care institutions for calamity-related expenses of hospitals like during typhoons and the “Marawi siege.”

    He said PhilHealth extended the assistance to accredited hospitals which have COVID patients.

    He said PhilHealth also “flagrantly inserted” P734 million to purchase an ICT equipment which was not approved by the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

    He said the budget for the PhilHealth purchase has been approved by the DICT but PhilHealth changed it and submitted a new list with a total amount of P734 million. He said it was flagged by the Commission on Audit.

    He said PhilHealth also manipulated its financial statements to make it appear that the agency’s financial status is of good standing. But a COA investigation showed its debt-to-equity ratio was 1 is to 0.99 which means “not positive” because the liability is P111 billion and equities were worth only P109 billion. Lacson said.

    Lacson said PhilHealth has been involved in highly-irregular disbursement of cash like in the case of “ghost dialysis patients,” questionable payment of COVID-19 test in hospitals, among others.

    He said the Senate will find out if the irregularities will reach Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. – With Raymond Africa