By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter

THE SENATE is aiming to start its investigation on alleged anomalies within the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) by next week with the goal of strengthening the National Health Insurance Act against corruption.

As Congress reopened Monday, senators filed Resolution No. 475 to constitute the committee of the whole to probe the recurring allegations of corruption, incompetence and inefficiency in PhilHealth, including during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“These rampant and pervasive allegations of corruption, incompetence and inefficiency have systematically impaired the management of PhilHealth to the detriment of this public institution and its members, without any remedial measures to improve competency and exact accountability, thereby endangering PhilHealth’s existence, necessitating the Senate’s intervention to prevent the corporation’s financial collapse,” reads part of the resolution.

“The main point of the investigation as far as we are concerned is that the PhilHealth law and the parameters given to PhilHealth should be clearer,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said at an online briefing on Monday.

He also said he hopes the Senate probe would lead to the indictment of erring PhilHealth officials.

Mr. Sotto said the hearing will be conducted, at best, starting Monday, Aug. 3.

The investigation was pushed after the recent resignation of Thorsson Montes Keith as PhilHealth’s anti-fraud legal officer, who cited “widespread corruption” in the agency.

He also raised the unfair promotion processes and the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contributions by overseas Filipino workers, which President Rodrigo R. Duterte has suspended. 

Under the resolution, Mr. Sotto and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson also cited a March 15 letter of PhilHealth Board Member Alejandro L. Cabading to Mr. Duterte that flagged discrepancies in an internal audit report.

The report found that some items under the information technology sector were not in the Information Systems Strategic Plan approved by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

“The same Internal Audit report indicated that despite absence from the DICT-approved ISSP, P734 million-worth of Information Communication Technology resources was flagrantly included in the CY 2020 budget proposal of PhilHealth,” the resolution read in part.

The amount makes up 46.84% of the total ICT proposed budget in 2020.

The report also uncovered a list of overpriced items worth P98.05 million and the splitting of items that amounted to P132.2 million.

Moreover, the senators questioned the implementation of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), which allows PhilHealth to grant advance payment to healthcare institutions up to three months during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also found the IRM was used to disburse funds to hospitals which were not accredited and had zero coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients admitted.

In a separate resolution, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan also sought an investigation, citing the overpricing of COVID-19 testing package that was revealed during a Senate hearing in May.

These recent reports of irregularities come just over a year after the President ordered the resignation of PhilHealth board members, including former chief executive officer Roy B. Ferrer, amid investigation into alleged anomalies in the agency.

Mr. Duterte then appointed Ricardo C. Morales, a retired army general, as president and chief executive officer.

Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go said Mr. Morales still enjoys the trust of Mr. Duterte.

“As of last night, ‘yun ang nabanggit ni pangulo na meron syang tiwala kay Gen. Morales pero kung merong mapatunayan na katiwalian, kung may kinalaman siya, I’m sure sisibakin siya (As of last night, the President mentioned he trusts Gen. Morales, but if proven there are irregularities and that he is involved, I’m sure he will be sacked),” Mr. Go said at the same online briefing.

Mr. Duterte last week ordered an investigation of PhilHealth, including its head.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth said Mr. Morales will not go on leave as he faces investigation in the Senate as well as in Malacañang.

Mr. Morales “clarified that he will fully cooperate with the investigations to be conducted by the Senate and by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission,” PhilHealth said in a social media post on Monday.