By Bernadette E Tamayo/ Manila Times
Senator Panfilo Lacson yesterday accused Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd of irregularities amid allegations of massive fraud at state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
Lacson claimed that Duque, who as Health chief is chairman of PhilHealth, owned a building in Dagupan, Pangasinan that the state firm was leasing for its operations in the province.
The senator also questioned why the PhilHealth board under Duque, after securing a Court of Appeals win regarding the questioned suspension of a hospital earlier this year, decided to recall the order.
Duque and PhilHealth representatives were not immediately available for comment.
Last week, Lacson had asked why the Health chief was not included in President Rodrigo Duterte’s sacking of the PhilHealth board over a “ghost dialysis” scam.
Duque objected and “challenged me to do something,” the senator said, “so I did something.” “And I found out that the (PhilHealth) Regional Office 1 … is housed in a building … owned by Secretary Duque. It is located in Tapuac district in Dagupan City,” Lacson claimed.
“If this is not conflict of interest, I don’t know what is,” added the senator, who also said he had a copy of the lease that was signed by Duque’s sister.
“It is irritating when a government official who knows he is in the wrong becomes hypocritical,” Lacson said.
Duque was also called out for suspending and later clearing Perpetual Succor Hospital in Cebu despite a Court of Appeals ruling upholding PhilHealth’s initial order.
A complaint of unauthorised extension of confinement had been filed against Perpetual Succor. In January, PhilHealth issued a three-month suspension order against the hospital.
The matter was raised before the appellate court, which ruled in PhilHealth’s favour and also denied a subsequent motion for reconsideration.
“What the hospital did was go back to PhilHealth and appeal. And PhilHealth, the whole board, granted the appeal. So how could the PhilHealth board reverse the decision of the CA?” Lacson said.
“There is no need for us to become lawyers to know the hierarchy of courts. A lower court cannot reverse the decision which in this case they themselves initiated,” he stressed.
“When it was brought back they reversed it supposedly for humanitarian reasons,” Lacson said.
Controversies continue to hound PhilHealth, Lacson claimed, “because it has been ingrained in their system.”
“For the longest time they have been squandering PhilHealth funds. It is important to discuss this because the Universal Health Care (Law) will be implemented this year. There’s P217bn appropriated by Congress and there’s another P22bn expected from sin tax,” he added.
“We are talking of hundreds of billions of pesos. When we hear P250bn being wasted over time, then it is revolting to say the least because we’re all practically members of PhilHealth.”
In the wake of the “ghost dialysis” scam involving Quezon City-based WellMed Dialysis Center and Laboratory Corp, the senator also said that other hospitals were in cahoots with PhilHealth with regard to fraudulent claims.
“I have the documents that (will show) there are several modus operandi that exist in PhilHealth. One is claims for supposed recurring illness. There’s another modus operandi wherein the hospital itself is in cahoots with PhilHealth,” Lacson said.
“The hospital submits a report extending the confinement of patients who were already discharged in order to collect from PhilHealth,” he said.
Also yesterday, health workers and patients staged a protest in front of the PhilHealth office in Quezon City to demand that fraud allegations involving the state-owned firm be investigated.
“We are here to hold PhilHealth accountable for the series of fraudulent scams, not just the one involving WellMed Dialysis, over the years that amounted to a massive amount that should have provided for services, especially for the poor,” Health Alliance for Democracy Secretary General Joseph Carabeo said.
The scams, he added, would not have prospered without the connivance of PhilHealth insiders.
Enrico Cruz, the husband of a chronic kidney disease patient, also denounced the inadequate support they are getting from PhilHealth. His wife, Cecilia Cruz, needs at least three dialysis treatments per week or about 156 per year. PhilHealth, however, only provides for 90 treatments, forcing them to seek assistance from other government agencies. “These are not covered by PhilHealth, that’s why we need to get assistance from PCSO and DSWD,” Cruz said.
Other groups who participated in the protest include the Alliance of Health Workers and the Council for Health and Development.
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