PhilHealth under probe, denies widespread corruption alleged by resigned officer

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 24) — Malacañang is investigating the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation after a lawyer resigned from the agency, citing widespread corruption and other irregularities.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain to conduct the probe, the Palace said Friday.

Quitain, an official from the Special Assistant to the President’s office, presided over the controversial virtual meeting that PhilHealth had with some Cabinet officials over the agency’s IT system, which reportedly led to the resignation of anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith.

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales confirmed to CNN Philippines that he has received a soft copy of Keith’s resignation letter, but denied the anomalies raised there.

“’Yung accusations niya are unfounded, malicious, and misdirected, so walang basehan lahat ng kanyang mga alegasyon. I categorically deny that,” Morales said.

[Translation: His accusations are unfounded, malicious, and misdirected, so they are all baseless. I categorically deny that.]

Morales stressed that there’s no massive corruption in PhilHealth and challenged Keith to “come up with the evidence and file the case.”

Keith also opposed the PhilHealth contribution being imposed on overseas Filipino workers, but Morales said this is still being discussed in the government, particularly by a joint oversight congressional committee.

READ: Duterte suspends higher PhilHealth premiums for OFWs, makes payments 'voluntary

As for Keith’s claim that his salary and hazard pay have been delayed from the time he started investigating some PhilHealth officers, Morales attributed the possible holdup to the community quarantine measures brought by the pandemic.

“All of us in fact are suffering in this delay nung mga administrative functions but I’ll look into it," Morales said. “He has worked, and he has to be paid for the work that he’s rendered.”

The document states that Keith is quitting effective August 31, but an irked Morales said he should leave immediately, if he’s claiming to be an anti-corruption “crusader.”

Palace: Lawyer's allegations are serious

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement said the Palace views Keith’s allegations “as a serious matter and therefore enjoin him, and other officials, to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.”

Morales said PhilHealth is ready to cooperate with any probe, including the possible legislative inquiry in the Senate.

He recognized that Quitain is looking into the alleged overpricing of PhilHealth’s proposed IT system, which caused misunderstandings since there are no IT professionals in PhilHealth’s board.

“It’s not overpriced, it’s underpriced,” Morales said without going into detail.

He refuted earlier reports that there was a shouting match during the meeting, saying they tried to resolve the issues as "competent professionals."

He also clarified that his head executive assistant Etrobal Laborte quit his post to pursue higher studies, while Corporate Legal Counsel Roberto Labe, Jr. is staying with the agency. Reports earlier said they are also leaving the agency due to irregularities.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is set to meet with PhilHealth's Board of Directors as its chairperson. Duque himself has been criticized for alleged failures in the department's pandemic response.

Beleaguered PhilHealth

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said there should be a “full-blown Senate investigation” again on the issues hounding PhilHealth.

“This inquiry will be one of the Senate's top agenda after our session resumes on Monday,” Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said, recalling previous controversies the state-owned health insurance agency was embroiled in.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned PhilHealth’s “overpriced” COVID-19 testing package, saying the government could lose ₱8 billion. PhilHealth later slashed the price, saying supply and demand have improved.

Several hospitals complained that PhilHealth owed them billions of pesos, but the agency's officials said this may be due to the denial of some claims due to lack of data and other requirements.

Phil​Health also figured in a “ghost” dialysis scam last year, where government funds were allegedly used for nonexistent kidney treatments. Duterte asked for the resignations of top PhilHealth officials following the insurance fraud scandal, which led to the hiring of Morales as its new chief.