IT IS probably one of the most contemptible clichés in our part of the world—corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). It persisted in the wake of the Universal Health Care Law and steals the limelight again while the country staggers in the health crisis.
The 25-year-old agency has been smudged with cases of fake and bloated claims, misrepresentation, ghost dialysis, accounts overpayment, case upscaling, and just about anything that siphoned hundreds of millions of pesos into the pockets of unnamed bogeys, or “mafia” as the recent term goes, behind the agency’s desks.
The agency is again on hot seat after its anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith resigned and exposed in the Senate hearing last Aug. 4 that around P15 billion has been stolen by a “mafia” inside the state insurer.
Keith said PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales once asked him to settle a case on overpriced Covid-19 testing kits with Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner Greco Belgica.
PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabading also testified against Morales, who he said backed a budget of overpriced ICT (information and communications technology) items in April. To cite one of Cabading’s exposes, a software suite that normally costs P168,000 was priced at P21 million. Padding in a good number of items was by the millions, he said.
In response, Morales urged Keith to substantiate his accusations, but he added however that the latter submit himself to a psychiatric test. Cheap insinuations from the CEO who should have shoved right off a mirror into the agency he heads and launched a crusade instead if he is at all worth his salt. Besides, it isn’t as though it’s Keith alone who had stood up against anomalies in the agency.
To recall, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Morales in June 2019 as the 11th chief executive officer and president of the agency just a few days after the President named him as a member of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System board of trustees.
In response to his appointment to PhilHealth, Morales vowed to “fix the organization and eliminate corruption.” He said it was crucial that the members “renew their trust” in the state insurer.
No small thanks to Keith who mustered laudable courage to speak before the Senate via a virtual hearing, but another key informant, Etrobal Laborte, former head executive assistant to Morales, on Aug. 5 backed out from the probe over fear for his life. Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it is Laborte who holds significant documents that will prove the irregularities. He’d rather wait for him to collect himself without much compulsion from the Senate for good will.
This latest “cycle of PhilHealth bashing,” to use Morales’s words, must be the last one. A comprehensive appraisal should bring to a conclusion on whether we should altogether pull the plug or cleanse the agency once and for all.
Corruption in a health insurance agency at a time when the citizens need it the most makes it even more downright evil.