16 more to be charged over PhilHealth fund mess

The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission will file charges against 16 more officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) as it continues its investigation into the loss of billions of pesos at the state insurer.

The investigation of the PACC as part of the presidential task force and as an independent body is ongoing, said Commissioner Greco Belgica on Monday.

The task force created to look into anomalies in PhilHealth earlier filed a criminal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against former PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and seven other agency officials.

“Aside from the eight charged by the Task Force, we will file 16 more charges, and an additional 40 are under investigation," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo without elaborating.

"The investigation is still ongoing, and our focus is to build up airtight cases against those who should be sued. This is not a one-time thing. It’s one thing to expose, it’s another to build up a case that will stand in court," Belgica said.

The Senate and the House of Representatives can file their own complaints against erring officials of PhilHealth, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday.

"Nothing prevents the Senate or the House from initiating their own complaints against erring PhilHealth officials. Both the executive and legislative branches, representing the interest of the people, are duty-bound to rid any government agency or entity of corruption and wrongdoing," Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

He made the statement after Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate may sue PhilHealth officials who were not included by the Guevarra-led task force in the complaint they filed before the Office of the Ombudsman last week.

The DOH on Monday said it is open to any additional investigation on alleged anomalies in PhilHealth, an agency under its supervision, after reports quoted Lacson as saying that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is also ex-officio chair of PhilHealth’s board, could still be charged.

“Secretary Duque already said that he is very much open to these kinds of investigations, even the Department,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

Also, Duque on Monday expressed support for the bill seeking to transfer the chairmanship of PhilHealth from the head of the DOH to the Secretary of the Department of Finance.

Duque said that he trusts the wisdom of the Congress if lawmakers think the task in PhilHealth is more fitting for the Finance chief.

“If they think this is now the time to view PhilHealth as more of a financial insurance entity and the chairman should be the Secretary of Finance, that’s okay with me,” Duque told CNN Philippines.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth denied P111 million worth of claims from government-run hospitals in 2019, the Commission on Audit (COA) said.

In its annual report on the Department of Health, state auditors said the denied claims reached P111 million due to the inability of state hospitals under DOH to “address the recurring challenges and noncompliance with applicable regulations.”

“This condition has resulted in the [DOH] hospitals' loss of income, which could have been used to augment their operating requirements,” COA said.

In another part of the report, the commission said DOH has accumulated P2.2 billion worth of expired, overstocked or nearly expired medicines as well as medical and dental supplies.

Of the P2.2 billion, P29 million were expired, P1.14 billion were overstocked and P1 billion were near expiry.

State auditors said that these supplies piled up due to poor procurement planning; inefficient and uncoordinated transfer/distribution; and lack of monitoring and proper storage.

These actions, COA said, violated Section 2 of the Government Auditing Code, which states that "all resources of the government should be managed, expended or utilized in accordance with law and regulations, and safeguarded against loss or wastage through illegal or improper disposition, with a view to ensuring efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the operations of government.

Hospitals in the NCR had the highest share of denied claims at 69%. Region 2 was a far second with 12%, while Region 1 and 10 both had 6%, the state auditor said.

As a result, COA recommended that the DOH hospitals analyze the causes for the disapproved/denied claims and use the information in processing future PhilHealth claims to improve reimbursement rate.

Belgica added he has also recommended ways to PhilHealth president and CEO Dante Gierran how the firm can recover the money it lost.

"All claims should be revalidated, and overpayment should be deducted in future claims," he said.

Duque, currently the chairperson of the state insurer, suggested that Congress should also revise a provision in Universal Health Care (UHC) Law to return the voting power of the PhilHealth chief.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III has filed a bill seeking to transfer the chairmanship of PhilHealth to the Finance chief instead of the Health Secretary.

Senate Bill No. 1829, filed on September 14, seeks to amend Section 13 of the UHC law. It states that the Finance Secretary "must be present and act as the chairman in all board actions and cannot be represented by an alternate or representative."

Guevarra expressed willingness to discuss with Sotto and Lacson the pieces of evidence the senators believe can substantiate the involvement of Duque in the PhilHealth fund mess.

“We will be glad to discuss the evidence with Senators Sotto and Lacson. As I’ve repeatedly said, the work of the task force covered only a few areas of fraud and corruption due to limitations of time, but member agencies have agreed to continue working together to investigate and prosecute other irregularities,” said Guevarra.

In the Sept. 14 report submitted by Task Force PhilHealth, it only recommended to President Duterte to “strongly admonish and remind the Chairman and members of the Board of the grave consequences of their action or inaction.”

In the first complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as endorsed by the DOJ, it filed criminal complaints against former PhilHealth president and chief executive officer (PCEO) Ricardo Morales, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Arnel de Jesus, Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco, Jr., Senior Vice President Israel Francis Pargas of the Health Financial Policy Sector, and respondents Gregorio Rulloda, Imelda Trinidad de Vera, Lolita Tuliao, Gemma Sibucao, and Lailani Padua.

Topics: Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission , PhilHealth , Greco Belgica
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