Duque on PhilHealth mess: 'I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption'

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Duque on PhilHealth mess: 'I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption'
Screengrab taken August 18 2020, shows Health Secretary Francisco Duque III virtually attending the Senate's probe into alleged corruption and mismanagement at PhilHealth.
Philstar.com screengrab

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who also sits as the Chairman of the Board at PhilHealth, on Tuesday denied that he condoned any fraud or corruption at the state-run insurer.

"I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption," Duque told the Senate, as it conducted the third hearing in its probe into alleged corruption and mismanagement against officials of PhilHealth.

He denied allegations that 300 PhilHealth accredited hospitals' claims were not paid, saying that only hospitals with insufficient requirements are denied payment.

Duque also denied alleged overpricing in the controversial information technology budget proposal of the agency, saying no money has been disbursed for it so far.

He also reiterated a defense made by other PhilHealth officials, regarding allegations of favoritism or impropriety in the agency's disbursement of its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, which is meant for calamitous events.

According to Duque, IRM payments are permissible "as long as the [healthcare institutions] have clear and apparent intent to continuously operate or rebuild in order to provide continuous healthcare services to adversely affected Filipinos."

"Its like repositioning funds in target areas so that reimbursement of claims is easier for [HCIs] during the pandemic when funds from the national office can be difficult to access," he added.

Sen. Ping Lacson previously alleged that PhilHealth released "hundreds of millions" to dialysis centers and maternity care providers but could not release P19 million to the Ospital ng Maynila which was accepting COVID-19 cases.

This week's hearing marks Duque's first appearance in the Senate's investigation into the state-run agency.

As the upper chamber probed claims by former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Keith that executives have stolen P15 billion from the agency's funds, many senators questioned Duque's role in the alleged fraud schemes unearthed in the last few weeks.

Drilon hits Duque's leadership on COVID-19 response

In his opening remarks, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was quick to acknowledge Duque's presence — taking the opportunity to criticize his performance at the helm of the country's health response to COVID-19.

According to Drilon, Duque's lack of a sense of urgency has resulted in the deaths of many Filipinos.

The minority leader further referenced a previous Senate resolution urging Duque's resignation, which was signed by almost half of the upper chamber, saying that he withheld his signature at the time but has since changed his mind.

"I did not sign the resolution... because I wanted to give Secretary Duque a chance, I wanted to see him perform, sadly... On the basis of what we have seen in our hearings... the performance of Mr Duque did not justify my non-signing, sad to say," Drilon said.

"The poor health management has resulted in the longest lock[down] in the world, and unfortunately, our Secretary of [Health] has failed to manage its pandemic and its curve," he added, further citing latest DOH data which places the country's COVID-19 caseload at 164,474 and deaths at 2,681.

He also hit Duque for dragging his feet on issuing a travel ban on travelers from China in the early days of the pandemic — something that Sen. Lacson often criticizes the health secretary for, as well. 

Amid the investigations being conducted by the Senate, the House, the Ombudsman and an inter-agency task force led by the Justice Department, PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales has taken a medical leave while six other officers have filed for a leave of absence at the urging of the justice secretary.

The PACC on August 3 submitted a report on the findings of its investigation into PhilHealth's system to President Rodrigo Duterte, wherein it recommended either the firing or the filing of cases against 36 individuals over alleged irregularities within the agency. 

The implementation of the IRM has also been suspended by PhilHealth for further review.






As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 27, 2020 - 6:53pm

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. is facing scrutiny anew over more allegations of corruption.

It was in the headlines last year because of an alleged scam involving payments to WellMed Dialysis Center for treatments charged for a patient who had already died.

Follow this thread for updates.

October 27, 2020 - 6:53pm

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation announces that the agency has released P500 million as partial payment to the Philippine Red Cross. 

"PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing on people’s lives. Its 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", PhiHealth President and CEO Dante Gierran says in a statement.

October 27, 2020 - 6:51pm

PhilHealth has released P50 million as partial payment to the Philippine Red Cross, PhilHealth President and CEO Dante Gierran says.

"PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing on people’s lives. Its prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer," Gierran says.

The state insurer adds that it will expedite the processing of its remaining balance to Red Cross following strict compliance to government accounting rules and regulations.

October 27, 2020 - 3:19pm

Two committees in the House approve a report recommending the filing of administrative and criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales and other officials over the widespread corruption in the state health insurer.

October 19, 2020 - 9:17pm

President Rodrigo Duterte says the government will compensate the Philippine Red Cross for COVID-19 tests.

The Red Cross recently halted conducting tests due to the P930 million debt of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation for the conduct of COVID-19 tests for the government.

"I don't think Sen. (Richard) Gordon would have in his mind to stop. What I'm trying to say is we will pay," Duterte says in a recorded address aired Monday night.

October 15, 2020 - 3:07pm

The Philippine Red Cross will stop conducting COVID-19 tests chargeable to PhilHealth due to the state insurer's outstanding balance.

PRC says it will no longer receive specimens for testing of OFWs, those arriving in airports and seaports, individuals through mega swabbing facilities, frontline health and government workers, and others included in the expanded testing guidelines of the DOH.

"The PRC does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its lawful obligations to the PRC," PRC says in a statement dated October 14.

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