PhilHealth chief Morales admits lapses as senators grill his leadership

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 4) -- Philippine Health Insurance Corporation President and CEO Ricardo Morales admitted he has not done enough to rid the agency of corruption as senators raise irregularities under his watch.

"Inaamin ko kulang ako sa paghanap ng mga gumagawa ng katiwalian," he said in a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on Tuesday.

[Translation: I admit that I am lacking in my efforts to look for those who are committing irregularities.]

Morales said he admitted this given that some irregularities are still present in the agency.

Among the issues raised in the hearing was the release of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism funds, a cash aid program, to healthcare institutions reeling from the COVID-19 crisis.

Senator Ping Lacson said the IRM is meant for hospitals and healthcare providers “hit by a fortuitous event with clear and apparent intent to continuously operate and or rebuild the HCI to provide continuous care services to adversely affected Filipinos.”

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales told Lacson in response that COVID-19 pandemic is a “fortuitous event” to which the latter agreed.

But the lawmaker questioned the quick release of funds to healthcare providers which he said do not cater to COVID-19 patients.

He cited as example the provision of P45,176,518 to five dialysis centers of Braun Avitum Philippines, Inc. Meanwhile, he claimed that Ospital ng Maynila, which accepts COVID-19 patients, has not received any cash advance yet.

He also cast doubt on the release of P226 million to maternity care providers. Other senators also raised the same issue.

Morales later defended that they released the funds to areas with high COVID-19 incidence rates such as Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon. He later added that they also distributed to other areas such as Bicol Region and Eastern Visayas which initially had yet to record high number of infections, to allow them to prepare for the outbreak. He assured that COVID-19 referral hospitals were prioritized.

However, he also conceded that the system was "not perfect."

"There are some areas that are more administratively efficient than others so 'yun ang reason kung bakit may nakakatanggap at may hindi nakakatanggap," he lamented.

[Translation: There are some areas that are more administratively efficient than others so that is the reason why some have received the funds while others have not.]

Morales maintained that the irregularities will be resolved once they get their proposed new information technology systems, though these have also been contested by lawmakers.

READ: PhilHealth chief endorsed 'overpriced' IT projects, says official

Running out of funds

Morales said initially, the IRM funds were meant for Level 1 to 3 hospitals, but later on, they also provided financial assistance to dialysis centers and maternity care providers, noting without the relief, they will be forced to “turn away” patients.

“They appealed to us as their patients need to be taken care of,” Morales said.

Morales also said that as of June 23, P19.3 million was released to Ospital ng Maynila, but Lacson told him Philhealth should “better check their record” again. Lacson said according to the Office of the Mayor of Manila, no IRM releases were made as of Monday.

For his part, PhilHealth Executive Vice President Arnel de Jesus said the purpose of IRM is to provide aid to all healthcare providers hit by the pandemic, not just hospitals which cater to COVID-19-related concerns.

PhilHealth said over P14 billion IRM funds were already released to hospitals and other healthcare institutions, most or P7.15 billion of which were provided to Level 3 hospitals.

Earlier in the hearing, the state-run agency's former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith, who earlier resigned due to "widespread corruption" within the office also accused PhilHealth chief of instructing him to talk to Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner Greco Belgica to amend a pending case involving the agency's ‘overpriced’ COVID-19 testing kits.

"Inutusan ako para hilutin ang kaso sa overpriced test kits," Keith bared.

[Translation: He asked me to negotiate on the case involving overpriced test kits.]

But Keith said he did not agree to Morales' directive.

In May, Senator Franklin Drilon questioned the supposed ‘overpriced’ COVID-19 testing package of the agency. In June, PhilHealth reduced their rates, citing an increase in number of testing kits and accredited coronavirus testing centers.