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EDITORIAL: Save Philhealth Jail the Culprits

With the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) already under the stewardship of Dante Gierran, the insurer of socialized health services can chart a clearer and graft free operation.

Being a former NBI director however, does not guarantee that Gierran can rid all the Philhealth’s shenanigans. For one, the scandals rocking Philhealth promise to assume multi-faceted directions. The inclusion of Senator Richard Gordon among those indictable due to questionable transactions involving the Philippine Red Cross which he heads, plus those linked to the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), involving the regional vice presidents, who were ordered by President Duterte fired, turned the situation more complicated. The accusers are now accused and the investigators are for investigation.

That is the trouble with Mr. Duterte’s leadership style which is similar to a drunken hip shooting cowboy. His minions led by Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque and Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, subsequently turn frantic in interpreting or misinterpreting the presidential pronouncements. It would have been better to approach the situation with a cooler and well-studied style. This way no further confusion is added to the already problem entangled agency, which is very important for those in need of socialized health services, especially during the ever spreading corona virus pandemic.

The Philhealth imbroglio cannot be solved instantly like magic. There has to be a more systematic and surgical approach to save Philhealth, like a patient with cancer or tumor which could be healed by chemotherapy in a multi-staged manner.

What the government is doing is not actually treating the ailment. It is killing or dismantling the patient. Proof of that is the proposal that Philhealth be already privatized because its problem is systemic. The ailment is curable.

There have been other agencies that passed through this stage but they eventually recovered. Among them is the Social Security System (SSS). History tells us that scandals also rocked such agency. There were even instances that false death claims flooded the SSS. The irregularities infected even the local operations. Some media personalities had a role in the commission of the anomaly.

Several of them had been prosecuted and eventually convicted for giving aid to false claimants via falsified documentation. But SSS painstakingly worked in its internal cleansing. Today it has improved its public perception.

The Government Security Insurance System (GSIS) has also been shaken by graft and corruption during the not distant past. But it has recovered. Philhealth is not a lost cause. It can survive the test of time. However the cleansing process should not only focus on the agency’s big wigs. Otherwise there will be no end to the blame game until such time that the controversies simply die down and/or get whitewashed.

More importantly the quid pro quo relationship among corrupt Philhealth officials, personnel and hospitals as well as medical practitioners should merit serious focus. It is here where corruption is rampant. The briber and the bribed become partners.

This partly explains the disparity of rates claimed by hospitals and doctors. Being an institution engaged in socialized services, Philhealth should ensure that the claims of private hospitals and medical practitioners offering similar facilities and services are uniform.

Along this line Commission on Audit (COA) personnel cannot feign ignorance about the Philhealth irregularities. Also worthy of inquiry is the inordinate issuance of Philhealth’s IDs, which is tainted with political consideration.

Finally consider the plight of the rank and file personnel who though not having any hand in the proliferation of the irregularities, suffer stigma and feel insecure about their employment.

Most of them are in at their middle age and should Philhealth be privatized they have nowhere else to go. Neither are they entitled to the benefits of early retirement. The Philhealth management must not engage in witch hunting. Rather it should adopt a holistic approach to the end that it earns the trust and confidence of general public.

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