Abolish or revamp PhilHealth â Duterte
President Duterte said he is considering imposing a “single line of authority” in the state-run insurer, which allegedly lost billions in funds due to fraudulent activities.
STAR/File
Abolish or revamp PhilHealth – Duterte
Mayen Jaymalin, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) abolished or revamped, saying reforms cannot be implemented if officials who are already entrenched in the system remain in their posts.

Duterte said he is considering imposing a “single line of authority” in the state-run insurer, which allegedly lost billions in funds due to fraudulent activities.

“I will try to begin tomorrow shaking the tree in PhilHealth,” the President said during a meeting of the government’s pandemic task force last Monday at Malacañang.

“With regard to PhilHealth, I am going to propose to Congress to abolish... if you privatize it, my God, there is no money. Who will provide your insurance? Don’t tell me capitalists will provide the insurance. Will we pay for it? You do not have funds,” he said.

Duterte said the lack of funds is the reason why the government is selling its real estate properties in Japan.

“We have to raise money. Wala nang pambayad ‘yang sa PhilHealth na ‘yan kung... Kaya walang ibang remedy diyan (There is no money for PhilHealth...there is no other remedy). It must be a surgical move,” he said.

Among the anomalies tied to PhilHealth are the padding of hospital claims, the procurement of allegedly overpriced information technology equipment and test kits and the unauthorized disbursement of funds to hospitals that have not reported COVID-19 cases. A justice department-led task force recently recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against former and incumbent PhilHealth officials over their supposed violations of the revised penal code, the anti-graft law and the tax code.

Duterte cited the need to change PhilHealth’s structure, claiming the present system no longer works.

“Create a new agency out of that – out of the ruins of that old one... We can’t allow people who are already entrenched to remain. Nothing will happen; either I’m going to revamp, consider everybody resigned there and if there’s the structure, we can slowly...disband...I mean as simple as it could ever be. That’s what I mean,” he said.

Duterte said officials should have limited discretion on papers being processed to prevent corruption.

“I told Congress to limit it. Three days, three days, three days, that’s enough. I’m sure… Otherwise, you guys are not doing your work. I mean three days if you really put your heart into it and work hard, you can finish the job,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted that Duterte has given PhilHealth president Dante Gierran until the end of the year to cleanse the state-run insurer of corruption.

“If it cannot be done by December, a new law is needed to abolish it and to replace it with a new one,” Roque said at a press briefing.

“The problem with PhilHealth is the problem is so systemic, they have to remove a lot of people, their influence is so pervasive so the President is thinking maybe it would be better to abolish it and start from scratch,” he added.

Massive dismissals

Roque said PhilHealth personnel who are not involved in anomalies need not worry because the President knows who should be dismissed from the service.

“Expect dismissals, massive dismissals in PhilHealth,” the Palace spokesman said in Filipino.

Roque assured the public that the giving of medical assistance would continue even if the state-run insurer was abolished. He said the law scrapping PhilHealth would contain transitory provisions to ensure that key operations would continue pending the creation of a new body.

“So nothing will change, only the faces. Corruption would be removed if it is abolished and a new organization...is created,” Roque added.

Labor groups, however, have warned of higher costs of medical services if President Duterte pursues his plan to dissolve or privatize PhilHealth.

Nagkaisa labor coalition called on the government to repair and plug the loopholes in the current system to prevent corruption instead of abolishing the state-run insurer.

“The President’s latest instruction for Congress to abolish PhilHealth has placed the full weight of this present crisis to the battered institution, rather than on individuals who were responsible for the crime. Privatizing healthcare, even more, is a cure worse than the disease,” Nagkaisa said in a statement.

It added that abolishing PhilHealth would wash down evidence of corruption in the agency as in the case of privatization projects undertaken by the government in the past.

Instead of resorting to abolishing PhilHealth to solve corruption, the government should just hold appointees and the appointing powers accountable, Nagkaisa said.

It also said privatizing PhilHealth would only reverse gains from an institutionalized universal health care (UHC).

Nagkaisa said privatization worldwide has led to commodification of health services.

“If privatization is the most sensible argument against corruption, incompetence and patronage system in state bureaucracy, then most if not all public institutions and government offices should have been privatized or dissolved a long time ago,” Nagkaisa pointed out.

The government, it added, should organize a competent management team for PhilHealth, review its policies and plug organizational loopholes.

Nagkaisa also suggested the infusion of additional funds into PhilHealth to ensure its survival and longevity.

PHILHEALTH PRESIDENT DUTERTE
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