The Department of Justice-led task force that investigated widespread corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) did not include among its recommendations the abolition of the state-owned health insurer, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday.
Guevarra said Task Force PhilHealth did not recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the abolition of the agency when it submitted its report last September 14.
Instead it pushed for intervention of the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG) into the operation of PhilHealth.
“In our report to the President, we recommended that the GCG be directed to study the possible reorganization of PhilHealth (not its abolition) and the creation of an interim management committee in the meantime,” Guevarra, head of Task Force PhilHealth, said in a text message to reporters.
According to the Justice Secretary, the President has not yet decided on what to do with PhilHealth following the discovery of its multibillion-peso fund mess.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health on Wednesday said the President has the prerogative to abolish PhilHealth, an agency created by law supervised by the DOH.
But even if PhilHealth is indeed dissolved, the government will still have a mechanism to help Filipinos with health care costs, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.
“The President of the Philippines has that prerogative. If he thinks it should be privatized or removed, that will be his decision based on the evidence presented to him,” Vergeire said.
On Monday, Duterte warned he will abolish the state health insurer as its officials continue to face allegations of corruption.
Duterte said the agency’s privatization would not be possible because the government did not have money.
PhilHealth was created by Republic Act 7875, also known as the National Health Insurance Act of 1995. The agency’s organizational set-up, operations and services are also spelled out in Republic Act 11223, or the Universal Health Care Act approved in February 2019.
“If that happens, if the pronouncement if the President pushes through, the government will make sure that whatever gap it leaves will be filled up, so our fellow countrymen won’t face financial hardship,” Vergeire said.
She said that PhilHealth was first established to provide accessible health care services for Filipinos.
“We know that many are unable to access health care services because of financial reasons,” she said.
Vergeire said they will just wait for the study being done by the Office of the President regarding PhilHealth, whose officials have been accused of corruption even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, Vergeire assured the public that the government will always have a financial mechanism for the country’s health care services.
The PhilHealth is currently headed by former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) chief Dante Gierran after retired Brig. Gen. Ricardo Morales resigned from the post due to his health condition.
An inter-agency task force led by the Department of Justice recommended two weeks ago that charges be filed against Morales; PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Information Management Sector Jovita Aragona; Acting Senior Manager, Information Technology and Management Department Calixto Gabuya Jr.; Senior Vice President for Fund Management Sector Renato Limsiaco Jr.; Senior Vice President for Health Finance Policy Sector Israel Francis Pargas; and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer Arnel De Jesus, among others.
Duterte approved the recommendation of the DOJ.
Two weeks earlier, the Senate Committee of the Whole, which investigated the alleged anomalies in PhilHealth, recommended the filing of criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who sits as chair of the PhilHealth board, and several former and incumbent officials of the agency.
The Senate, which only acts as an oversight body and has no power to file cases against the agency’s officials before any court, said Duque, Morales and some executive officers of PhilHealth should be charged with malversation and graft for the “improper and illegal implementation” of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).