Money anomalies in PhilHealth, PVAO

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Reports about public fund anomalies in state-owned agencies saturated the news media last week.

There is the state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), which is alleged to have made overpayments for bogus, padded and unconfirmed medical insurance claims amounting to P154 billion since 2013. Roy Ferrer is the chief of PhilHealth, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is its board chairman.

“Observers believe there is gross incompetence and inexcusable negligence on the part of PhilHealth officials, who should have instituted more. administrative safeguards against bogus claims.

PhilHealth was also reported to have made payments to a dialysis center for bogus patients’ claims. The dialysis center concerned is the WellMed Dialysis Center and Laboratory Corporation, or WellMed, which is accredited by PhilHealth on an annual basis.

The reported owners of WellMed are Bryan Christopher Sy, Claro Ngo Sy, Alvin Wang Sy, Therese Francesca Rodrigo-Tan and Dick Sy Ong.

Last year, two employees of WellMed called the attention of PhilHealth to the anomaly but they were supposedly ignored. Despite their revelations regarding the bogus payments, PhilHealth still renewed the accreditation of WellMed for another year.

The two whistleblowers also revealed that they asked PhilHealth for protection, PhilHealth did nothing. According to PhilHealth, cases have already been filed against those involved in the anomaly.

This latest controversy about public health care funds is a sequel to the ongoing Dengvaxia vaccine scandal involving officials of the Department of Health appointed by President Benigno Aquino III.

Observers believe there is gross incompetence and inexcusable negligence on the part of PhilHealth officials, who should have instituted more administrative safeguards against bogus claims. The cost of instituting those safeguards would have outweighed the amount lost to bogus claims.

Political analysts also noted that it is obvious that this anomaly could not have taken place without the cooperation of unscrupulous physicians and hospital managers.

For the past several years, the Commission on Audit (CoA) had been calling the attention of PhilHealth to numerous instances of overpayments nationwide. Apparently, the warnings were systematically ignored.

All this means Duque, Ferrer and the owners of WellMed have a lot of explaining to do.

There is also the Philippine Veterans Administration Office (PVAO) whose current administrator is Ernesto Carolina.

The CoA recently revealed that the PVAO paid monthly pensions worth more than P70 million to almost 6,000 veterans who have long died. Many of those pensions were still paid even after five years even if the veteran concerned had already died.

Carolina blamed the problem on the long time it takes to report a veteran’s death to PVAO’s depository banks, which process the release of the pensions. That excuse is hogwash.

As PVAO administrator, Carolina should have maintained a system of coordination with the National Statistics Office and all major hospitals and funeral parlors regarding death certificates. In turn, deceased veterans can be identified immediately.

The PVAO’s depository banks are to share the blame. It is common knowledge that banks closely monitor death notices in obituaries and similar sources in order to identify which bank accounts should be frozen. Since banks are already into this monitoring practice, it was incumbent upon the PVAO depository banks to ascertain if the monthly pensions they are processing are still due, especially considering that the PVAO funds in their custody are held in trust.

Some of the banks, which process disbursements to veterans and their qualified dependents, are Land Bank of the Philippines, Philippine Veterans Bank, Development Bank of the Philippines, United Coconut Planters Bank, Asia United Bank and Maybank. The Armed Forces of the Philippines Savings and Loan Association, Composite Wing Savings and Loan Association, and Air Materiel Wing Savings Loans Association also handle the payments of monthly pensions to the veterans and their dependents.

Carolina and the heads of the banks and military-affiliated financial institutions enumerated above also have a lot to explain.

Under the law, private persons may be charged together with government officials if the private persons are part of the anomaly.

Unless satisfactory answers are given by the government officials involved in these anomalous incidents, they should resign from office immediately. President Rodrigo Duterte can also fire them outright.

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