A chance for PhilHealth reforms

A chance for PhilHealth reforms

A year and another corruption scandal ago, Ricardo Morales was appointed president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. The retired Army brigadier general was moved from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System to PhilHealth amid reports that the state insurer had paid for kidney treatments of dead patients at the Wellmed Dialysis Center.

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed criminal charges for corruption and fraud against 21 PhilHealth accreditation officials over the “ghost” dialysis claims. Roy Ferrer lost his post as PhilHealth president and CEO.

Now Morales himself is out of the post and has been recommended for criminal indictment by the Senate committee of the whole, which includes all members of the chamber, in connection with new PhilHealth anomalies. Resigned and incumbent PhilHealth officials have said a syndicate or “mafia” is behind the continuing anomalies in the agency.

This is the challenge now facing Dante Gierran, a lawyer and accountant who once headed the NBI, and is now tasked to undertake the cleansing in PhilHealth that was assigned to Morales. The challenge is daunting.

Morales, who is battling cancer and wished Gierran good health in the top PhilHealth post, has said it would take about three years and an external management team to clean up the agency. Morales says PhilHealth is “not configured” for clean and efficient management. He points to hospitals, working in collusion with PhilHealth insiders, for the rot in the agency.

Gierran is assuming the PhilHealth post amid high expectations that he can carry out the long overdue honest-to-goodness housecleaning. The problem is complicated by the disclosure of Rodolfo del Rosario Jr., who resigned as PhilHealth senior vice president for the legal sector, that the regional directors of the agency who have been tagged in the scandal have political backers.

Gierran will have to navigate this minefield as he implements structural reforms that will plug opportunities for stealing PhilHealth funds while at the same time identifying, prosecuting and penalizing those behind the anomalous activities.

In this pandemic, it is a national tragedy that one of the most critical agencies in the COVID response is mired in a corruption scandal. The agency badly needs to regain public confidence. A new chief should pave the way for the long overdue overhaul of PhilHealth.