"A moratorium on PhilHealth premium payments is in order."
So, Malacañang has finally stepped in on the PhilHealth row.
Although falling short of his promise to dismiss any government official or personnel even at the slightest whiff of corruption, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless called for an investigation on the alleged irregularities within the state health insurer. He created a task force to conduct a probe parallel to those being conducted by the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.
Duterte ordered the Department of Justice to create the task force which will conduct an audit of PhilHealth finances and conduct lifestyle checks on the agency’s officials and employees. If warranted, the task force could also recommend the preventive suspension on any official to ensure an unhampered probe.
The PACC haa already submitted an initial report on its investigation, recommending the filing of graft and corruption cases against 36 high-ranking and mid-level PhilHealth officials.
However, as all these bodies continue with their own probes, PhilHealth members still continue to pay their premium, with not the slightest idea on where their hard-earned money will go, given the enormity of the allegations.
With these apprehensions, this writer is inclined to fully support the proposal of a former Duterte appointee, Infrawatch PH convernor, former Rep. Terry Ridon, for a moratorium on PhilHealth remittances.
“Unless there is policy clarity on reforms relating to PhilHealth's leadership and fund life, there should be a moratorium on compulsory remittances by members to the state health insurance firm,” Ridon says.
Ridon has even likened Duterte’s handling of the situation as similar to kid-gloves treatment, abandoning his “whiff of corruption promise,” by refusing to take actions on the PhilHealth officials in question, including its chairman, Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
“It was the President himself that made the standard on the firing of presidential appointees: not a whiff of corruption. This is not even a whiff, this is a landfill,” according to Ridon.
Duterte’s former chief of the Presidential Commission on Urban Poor further says that the government’s kid-gloves treatment of PhilHealth executives is an absolute disservice to millions of PhilHealth members. These are the people who stand to lose health benefits if the state insurer’s fund life gets sapped by next year. Their hard-earned income is better spent confronting coronavirus concerns now, or paying for private health insurance moving forward.
Ridon insists the moratorium is justified as the government will be setting up the public for another heartbreak if they cannot avail themselves of their benefits by next year.
The government should step in to plug the leaks and change the agency’s top management. If this means a new round of subsidies, then so be it. Members should not be made to pay for fraud, but the government should hold to account those who perpetrated the fraud, the former solon adds.
According to Ridon, the amount of money allegedly involved in the PhilHealth fraud constitutes 6.8 percent of PhilHealth’s total assets in 2018. All of this could have been used for a more robust coronavirus response. And these all came from the contributions of every PhilHealth member.
Hence, as Ridon says, until we can be assured of what will happen to our contributions, until the necessary reforms have been put in place, a moratorium on premium payments should be in order. That would be the right thing to do given this situation.
Also, it wouldn’t do any harm if the task force created by Duterte to investigate the PhilHealth fraud recommends the immediate firing and the prosecution of those found liable for the state insurer’s mess.
After all, it was Duterte himself who has sworn to fire any of his appointees at the slightest whiff of corruption. Members of the task force cannot, and should not, arrogate unto themselves the power to overrule the President on this.