More state auditors needed to rid Philhealth of corruption --Recto

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday said deploying more state auditors in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will rid the agency of corruption and anomalies.

Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

The senator issued the recommendation after Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Michael Aguinaldo told senators on Tuesday that the agency had 16 auditors and an administration staff assigned full time in PhilHealth.

Recto believes this is not enough, saying auditors are the  "vaccines" that the government-run insurance firm needs to weed out corruption.

"Kahit one auditor per region, kulang pa rin (An auditor per region is still not enough)," he said in a statement. "Auditors are like smoke detectors. PhilHealth is like a big building with hundreds of rooms, but only 16 are equipped with it."

"If an agency spends more than P140 billion a year in batches of 35,000 claims a day from 8,500 hospitals and clinics, then you must have auditors more than what you can fit in a van," he continued.

Recto said the COA currently has 5,782 job vacancies in its plantilla, including at least  516 for certified public accountants. To address the problem in  recruitment, he said the COA could hold "aggressive" job fairs to fill their vacancies.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri supported this suggestion to improve transparency in the state insurer's releases under its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

PhilHealth's implementation of the IRM has been questioned by lawmakers for the advanced payments given to favored health care facilities, while reimbursements were limited or deferred to government hospitals that actually cater to COVID-19 patients.

During the Senate's hearing on Tuesday, COA officials reported  PhilHealth's violations of audit regulations. COA said the agency liquidated only P1 billion out of its P14.97-billion IRM releases to date.

Such advanced payments are prone to corruption, Zubiri said. He added that allocation of government funds should also be subject to pre- and post-audits.

"Hindi ka pwedeng mabigyan ng pondo kung wala kang plan of action kung saan gagamitin ang pera (You cannot be given funds if you do not have a plan of action on what to do with the fund). Hindi 'yan pwedeng iparada lang na wala pang plano kung saan gagamitin (You cannot just park it in a certain institution without plans how you will spend it)," Zubiri said.

"These remaining funds for the IRM should be accurately and correctly accounted for," he added.

Aside from calling for a "bigger COA detachment", Recto had proposed the appointment of a "resident Ombudsman" in the PhilHealth to keep an eye on PhilHealth officials.