By Camille A. Aguinaldo
SOME P10.6 billion worth of funds meant for the health insurance coverage of senior citizens were transferred in 2015 to the Department of Health (DoH) without the knowledge of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) board in directors, a health official said on Tuesday. At the joint congressional hearing of the National Health Insurance, Philhealth Executive Vice President Ruben John A. Basa said former PhilHealth President Alexander A. Padilla and former Health Secretary Janette P. Loreto-Garin, who chairs the PhilHealth board of directors, signed a joint letter in 2015 asking the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release P10.6 billion for the DoH’s barangay health facilities and enhancement program.
According to a veto message by former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III in the 2015 General Appropriations Act, Mr. Basa said the P10.6 billion was intended to fund the senior citizens health insurance coverage, pursuant to Republic Act No. 10645 which mandates Philhealth coverage for all senior citizens.
PhilHealth auditor of the Commission on Audit (CoA) Rebecca Y. Ragsag confirmed the transfer of funds from PhilHealth to DoH.
Asked by Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito whether the PhilHealth board of directors were aware of the joint letter, Mr. Basa said it was not presented nor approved by the PhilHealth board of directors.
“And even in the PhilHealth management because even after during those times, we still continue to bill DBM for the P10.6 billion. It was only about a year later when DBM wrote PhilHealth that actually wala na po kaming inaasahan (you can’t expect anything from us),” Mr. Basa said.
Independent Director of the PhilHealth Monetary Board Anthony C. Leachon said the state-run health insurance agency tapped its reserve funds to provide funding for senior citizens’ PhilHealth coverage instead.
This resulted in a “steep decline” of the PhilHealth’s reserve funds starting 2015.
Mr. Basa said PhilHealth, as ordered by its board, has filed a complaint on the issue before the Office of Ombudsman last May 27.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III described the transfer of money as “malgovernance” to the DoH.
“You’re talking about P10.6 billion. How can that, number one, not be made known to the Philhealth board of directors? That is the governing board,” he said.
In a statement, Mr. Ejercito said the diversion of funds was “a heinous act three times cruel than the Dengvaxia fiasco.”
“I can only describe this act as an utterly heartless and insensitive to the condition of our senior citizens,” the senator said.
For his part, Senator Richard J. Gordon said he would take the matter to the Senate Blue Ribbon for further investigation in aid of legislation.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo