EDITORIAL - âCrime of the yearâ
EDITORIAL - ‘Crime of the year’
(The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2020 - 12:00am

In June last year, amid all the anomalies reported in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., President Duterte ordered Roy Ferrer to quit as acting PhilHealth president and CEO together with the entire board of the state insurer.

This time, Ferrer’s replacement, retired military general Ricardo Morales, is himself under fire after an anti-fraud officer of PhilHealth resigned and told the Senate that a “mafia” in the agency had pocketed up to P15 billion in public funds. Thorrsson Montes Keith, in his resignation letter, had cited “widespread corruption” in the agency that plays one of the most critical roles in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facing the Senate in a video conference, Keith described the PhilHealth anomalies as the “crime of the year.” Compounding Keith’s revelation was the testimony of acting senior vice president Nerissa Santiago that the state insurer could go bankrupt by next year. She explained that this is due to a drop in collections amid the economic contraction combined with a spike in payouts for COVID-related expenses of PhilHealth members.

With the COVID contagion seen to drag on for several more months, that could spell catastrophe for the pandemic response. Some quarters raised doubts about the claim that PhilHealth has an actuarial life of only a year. But the issues raised by Keith, if true, could spell the end of the agency if not addressed quickly and decisively.

Morales has vehemently denied corruption under his watch but admitted that PhilHealth has “wicked problems.” Among his intended solutions is the computerization of processes to cut red tape and eliminate opportunities for graft. This makes sense, except the computerization plan itself has been dragged into corruption allegations. An internal audit report forwarded to President Duterte by a PhilHealth board member stated that P734 million worth of information technology resources included in the 2020 budget was not part of the Information Systems Strategic Plan approved by the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

These issues come on the heels of controversy disclosed during another Senate probe of PhilHealth operations in May, over the supposed overpriced COVID testing packages of the agency costing P8,150 each. PhilHealth subsequently released a new testing package priced at just P3,409.

Clearly, something is amiss in PhilHealth. As of yesterday, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission said up to 36 PhilHealth officials could face charges in connection with various anomalies. Because of the importance of PhilHealth in the pandemic response, its cleansing needs urgent and decisive attention.

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