PhilHealth chief offers to go on medical leave

Sheila Crisostomo, Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
PhilHealth chief offers to go on medical leave
PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales said he is also considering taking legal action over the public disclosure of his medical certificate by the Senate, which had expected his appearance today before the committee of the whole to answer allegations of corruption in his agency.
pna.gov.ph / File

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales has offered to take a “medical leave” following public disclosure that he is undergoing treatment for lymphoma or cancer of the lymph nodes.

Morales said he is also considering taking legal action over the public disclosure of his medical certificate by the Senate, which had expected his appearance today before the committee of the whole to answer allegations of corruption in his agency.

Reacting to this, Senate President Vicente Sotto III pointed out in an interview that Morales is a public official in charge of an agency with a critical role during a pandemic, so his health is a matter of public concern.

Sotto’s advice to Morales: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

“I have already relayed to my bosses my intentions, and it’s up to them to decide. Medical leave. My fate is in their hand. They still haven’t decided and I’m just waiting,” Morales told CNN Philippines yesterday.

Morales said he did not want to take a leave because PhilHealth is in a “difficult time right now” due to the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law.

He maintained that PhilHealth’s Information Technology system has been delayed due to frequent changing of its CEO. This means change in signatures and documents.

“I was trying to avoid that. One of the reasons that I did not want to resign… You need stability in implementing UHC… This is what they say – it is not wise to change horses in the middle of the stream,” he added.

Morales also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as his other reason for not wanting to take a leave.

The official said his lawyers are now studying the legal action to take for the supposed violation of his privacy.

“I am having some lawyers look at it. The privacy law has been violated. (But) maybe the Senate, maybe they are above the privacy law. I have the lawyers look at it,” he added.

Morales underscored that he really felt “humiliated” when the Senate made public his medical condition.

Last Saturday, Morales furnished the Senate committee of the whole a copy of his medical certificate indicating that he was undergoing treatment for lymphoma.

The certificate also showed that his doctor had advised him to take a leave of absence.

Morales said he had only requested the Senate to allow him to “appear online” at its hearings on the PhilHealth corruption issue.

“That was all, that’s to justify my appearance online… In PhilHealth, we are very careful with patients’ data because it involves private and personal data. So I feel my privacy was violated when they published my medical certificate,” he added.

The official made it clear that it was not his intention to skip the Senate hearings, stressing that even after he was diagnosed in February, he was still reporting for work.

“I am still capable of carrying out my duties here so I continued despite my doctor’s advice. I disobeyed my doctor,” he maintained.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said other PhilHealth officials under investigation or subjects of special audits should go on leave.

Guevarra, who heads Task Force PhilHealth, said he hopes the officials “would voluntarily go on leave while their agency is under intense investigation.”

“They know who they are. If they are not hiding anything, they can take a leave of absence to enable the investigators/auditors to freely complete their inquiry or examination,” he said.

Sen. Bong Go, in an interview on Sunday, reiterated President Duterte’s determination to put an end to deeply rooted and systemic corruption in PhilHealth and other government agencies.

“That’s why Task Force (PhilHealth) was formed. This will be a focused and targeted whole-of-government approach to fight corruption. Government agencies will help one another cleanse and cure a broken system mired in corruption,” Go, chairman of the Senate committee on health, said.

The task force, he said, will have “more teeth” to “bite-off” the systemic corruption in government.

Commenting on Morales’ being linked to anomalies, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the PhilHealth chief “was the guardian of integrity during his time in the service.”

“I don’t think he has been involved here, personally, I know him personally and I don’t think he has been involved in some of the anomalies there,” Lorenzana said.

“He is honest and he is a go go go person. He accomplishes things. But I think he was overwhelmed by these, by the things that he found in PhilHealth,” he said.

Flagged by COA

The Commission on Audit (COA) has been flagging PhilHealth for years over apparent mismanagement of funds and unauthorized grant of allowances and bonuses to its officials and employees. COA has yet to release its 2019 annual audit report on PhilHealth.

In its 2018 annual audit report alone, the COA called out PhilHealth for putting the government fund at risk through questionable investments in corporate bonds amounting to P14.345 billion.

The audit body said PhilHealth bought bonds from several corporations with questionable financial statements and credit worthiness, “exposing government funds to undue risk of loss.”

In the same audit report, COA also reprimanded PhilHealth for its unlawful grant of P68.952 million in allowances to its officials and employees in regional offices 4-A (Calabarzon), 5 (Bicol) and 8 (Eastern Visayas).

The audit agency also said PhilHealth continued to grant hazard pay, subsistence and laundry allowances, shuttle service allowance, rice allowance and self-insurance benefits to its provincial officials and employees even after being repeatedly reminded that such benefits are exclusive to public health workers in accordance with Republic Act 7305 or the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.

In its 2017 audit report, the COA even warned PhilHealth of “imminent” reduction of its actuarial life following its huge net loss which stood at P4.75 billion as of the end of that year.

COA said PhilHealth continued to incur operational losses for the past five years (2013 to 2017), the largest of which was in 2017 amounting P10.489 billion.

It also said that unlike in 2013 to 2016 when PhilHealth’s operational losses were offset by its “interest and other income,” the firm’s earnings in 2017 were not enough to cover the staggering losses in its operations.

Based on the audit body’s records, PhilHealth’s “interest and other income” for 2017 decreased by three percent or to P5.738 billion from P5.813 billion in 2016, while operational losses shot up by 43 percent or to P10.489 billion from P5.75 billion in 2016. This resulted in a net loss of P4.75 billon in 2017 contrary to a net income of P62.689 million in 2016.

The state auditors attributed PhilHealth’s loss to its inability to avail itself of the P37.06-billion allocation of the government for the premium contribution of indigents.

COA said the P37.06-billion premium coverage of the indigents would have brought P3.2 billion in revenues to PhilHealth but the firm failed to enroll the targeted indigents/beneficiaries earlier identified by the Department of Social Welfare and Department under its National Household Targeting System.

Furthermore, the state auditors said PhilHealth was unable to collect the P10.6-billion unprogrammed funds allocated to it under the 2015 General Appropriations Act for the mandatory premium coverage of senior citizens pursuant to the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010. – Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan

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