A BICOL congressman has lauded President Rodrigo Duterte’s twin directives to effect a leadership shakeup at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and throw the book at unscrupulous health service providers and their cohorts in this state firm believed responsible for the hemorrhage of as high as P154 billion in funds since 2013 through bogus treatments of phony or dead patients.
President Duterte’s decisive steps, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte said, will prevent the Universal Health Care (UHC) program from taking a nosedive even before it could take off, more so now that this pro-poor program has obtained adequate funding with the passage of new “sin” tax bill before the 17th Congress adjourned sine die last week.
“The President is doing the right thing in effecting a leadership shakeup at PhilHealth and at the same time ordering the concerned agencies to throw the book at erring health service providers and their cohorts in PhilHealth,” Villafuerte said.
“This multibillion-peso scam has obviously thrived through the sheer incompetence or connivance of certain PhilHealth execs nationwide,” Villafuerte said. “The President is correct to point out that this issue is big because public funds are involved. This scam should not go unpunished.”
Villafuerte pointed out that the congressional approval of the bill raising taxes on cigarettes and new tobacco products like heat-not-burn or vape devices and e-cigarettes will go for naught without the President’s twin directives last weekend to stem the fund leakage at PhilHealth and eventually put erring health service providers and conniving government executives behind bars.
The Camarines Sur lawmaker issued the statement following reports quoting President Duterte as saying he would effect a revamp of top officials at PhilHealth following allegations of misuse of billions of government funds through “ghost” dialysis treatments. Mr. Duterte also directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to arrest and probe the owners of a dialysis facility in Quezon City that made bogus dialysis procedures to non-existent kidney patients.
A news report has estimated that PhilHealth losses from this scam could reach as high as P154 billion combined since 2013.
Earlier, Villafuerte said the congressional passage of the bill further raising “sin” taxes on tobacco products will set the stage for President Duterte’s enactment of “a fitting last gift” to the Filipino people by the 17th Congress that boasts a legacy of landmark social and pro-poor legislation.
Villafuerte noted that higher taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products would benefit most especially poor and low-income Filipinos as the would-be revenues from this measure are meant to cover the funding gap of the UHC Law that was signed by President Duterte last February.
He said a new law setting even higher tax rates on cigarettes and other tobacco products to discourage smoking and help fund UHC is one potent way to make sure that the benefits of the continued economic growth surge on the Duterte watch trickle down and benefit all Filipinos.
According to the Department of Finance (DOF), the first year of UHC’s implementation in 2020 will require some P258 billion to implement, which the government can cover from its current funding sources in the amount of P195 billion. Without a new sin tax reform law, UHC will be left with a funding gap of around P62 billion in the first year alone.
The Department of Health (DOH) said UHC, without a steady funding source from higher “sin” taxes, will mean that PhilHealth members will continue to be covered for only 18 primary care drugs and seven conditions while shouldering 90 percent of the cost of prescribed medicines.
But with the “sin” tax hike, PhilHealth coverage will expand to cover 120 drugs and there will be no limit on primary care treatment. The DOH has also proposed that medicine purchases will be limited to a fixed fee—the cost of the transaction alone.