Senate probing Philhealth’s significant loss, big debt to private hospitals

Published May 29, 2018, 4:48 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Hannah Torregoza

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Tuesday renewed his call for PhilHealth to expand its primary care benefit packages for all Filipinos.

Angara said expanding the coverage of the primary care benefit package, which includes free check-ups, laboratory tests, and medicines, would help improve the financial status of PhilHealth in the long run.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara

“The primary care benefit package aims to improve access to outpatient medicines, reduce hospitalization and improve the health of patients with non-communicable diseases long before their conditions become catastrophic,” said Angara, adding that PhilHealth will be able to save enough funds if all members have access to primary care services.

The Senate is now conducting a review of the performance and accomplishments of PhilHealth in light of reports of a P9-billion loss and alleged P700-million debt to private hospitals.

In a joint congressional hearing last week, PhilHealth senior vice president for risk management sector Nerissa Santiago said the agency is now implementing a rationalization of benefit payouts by expanding its primary care benefit package.

She said patients are first required to go to a primary care physician to check whether their conditions can be managed under a primary care setting instead of hospitalization.

Also part of the package are regular blood pressure and body measurement, clinical breast examination, cervical cancer screening, digital rectal examination, risk profiling for hypertension and diabetes, counseling for smoking cessation and lifestyle modification, and oral check-up.

Likewise, diagnostic examinations such as complete blood count, blood typing, urinalysis, stool exam, chest x-ray, sputum microscopy, lipid profile, fasting blood sugar, creatinine, electrocardiogram are included.

Angara noted that currently, only indigents and sponsored members are entitled to such benefits.

“We should extend this benefit to all. That is the essence of universal health coverage—that every Filipino must be provided with proper health services without fear of financial hardship,” said Angara, one of the authors of the Universal Health Coverage bill.

“Dapat maunawaan ng mga kababayan natin na ang P2,000 halaga ng pagpapa-check-up at mga gamot sa isang taon ay maaaring makaiwas sa higit P200,000 na pagpapa-dialysis kada taon, (Our citizens should understand the importance of having a P2,000 worth of check up and maintenance medicines every year to prevent them from annually spending P200,000 just for dialysis),” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, said it is disappointing to note that PhilHealth is currently in bad financial shape when Congress is about to pass the Universal Healthcare Program in a few months.

Ejercito is referring to the P10.6-billion fund for PhilHealth intended for the benefit of senior citizens, to the Department of Health in 2015 which was brought up during the bicameral hearing, Tuesday.

“It’s disappointing that PhilHealth is in bad financial shape right now when we are about to pass the Universal Healthcare Program in a few months.

“Mabigat yung P10.6-billion fund to fund the expanded senior citizens’ program that was diverted for construction of rural health units. Eto ang nagsimula ng hirap na financial condition ng PhilHealth ngayon.”

As far as he is concerned, Ejercito said this issue “is a heinous act three times cruel than the Dengvaxia fiasco.”

Because based on the documents they gathered, the senator said it appears that former Health Secretary Janette Garin and former PhilHealth president and CEO Alexander Padilla were behind this move.

“I can only describe this act as utterly heartless and insensitive to the condition of our senior citizens. I can’t find good conscience in this,” Ejercito said.

“Naisampa na ang kaso laban sa dalawa sa Office of the Ombudsman at doon na lang nila ipagtanggol ang kanilang sarili (The case against the two has been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and I hope they defend themselves there),” he said.