MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday urged the executive branch to create an "anti-overpricing body" to curb alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), whose officials supposedly took public funds for themselves from procuring equipment up to 10 times the actual price.
An Independent Price Negotiation Board, authorized under the Universal Health Care Act, will be in charge of identifying standard prices for health-related items the government needs to purchase, Hontiveros said in a tweet Thursday night.
She said such a body "could've helped prevent the loss of billions" at the state health insurance agency, which is now facing corruption investigations.
"An oversight of PhilHealth's future spending can prevent the misuse of funds and ensure that records of spending are made transparent to everyone," she said in a separate statement.
Several PhilHealth officials are being accused of pocketing up to P15 billion from the state-run insurance firm's funds by allegedly "padding" the prices of laptops, software and other IT-related items.
Hontiveros noted that the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry have yet to organize the pricing oversight body even if its creation is mandated by the Universal Health Care Act, which was signed into law in February 2019.
"Maraming buhay ang nakataya sa maayos na serbisyo ng PhilHealth, kaya dapat ay gampanan nito ang kanyang responsibilidad at protektahan ang pondo para sa kalusugang pangkalahatan," Hontiveros said.
(Many lives rely on prompt PhilHealth service, so it should carry out its responsibility to protect funds for universal health care.)
PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales earlier denied irregularities in the insurance firm's IT budget, saying several officials have been trying to demonize the agency's shift to digitalization as the tech upgrade would make dubious transactions easier to spot.
President Rodrigo Duterte has created a task force that would investigate alleged anomalies in the agency tasked to shoulder the COVID-19 testing and other medical fees of Filipinos.
The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission earlier recommended the filing of criminal charges against 13 PhilHealth officials for allegedly approving the release of claims without proper validation.