MANILA - Senators on Tuesday questioned the P27-billion "war chest" the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) made available to hospitals in January, convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic was used as an excuse to justify the release to allegedly favored health care institutions.
PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales said the agency was "in a state of panic" and sought to prepare hospitals for the looming pandemic by advancing the amount, which they could use for such purchases as personal protective equipment and disinfectants.
"It was not arbitrary," he told senators, saying allocations were based on hospitals' claims in the last 90 days.
But Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised doubts that PhilHealth had intended the amount to prepare hospitals for the pandemic, noting that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III "did not do anything" about the crisis until mid-March.
"Yet an agency was already 'panicking,' if we are to believe them," Drilon said.
"Obviously, this is an excuse... This is an excuse which should not be allowed to stand unchallenged."
Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the release of P703 million and later, P9.3 billion, before the PhilHealth came out with implementing guidelines.
He was incredulous, saying the fund release was ahead of the start of government's response to the virus, and even came earlier than the first confirmed case in the Philippines on January 30.
Asked how the agency came out with a P27-billion allocation for the interim reimbursement mechanism, PhilHealth board member Susan Mercado said the body was just "asked to endorse it."
Alejandro Cabading, another board member, said he was also "uncomfortable" with the IRM scheme.
"Giving out money in advance is like putting your foot ahead of the fire," he said, claiming that certain hospitals had been "favored" based on the accounts of some employees.
PhilHealth senior vice president Rodolfo del Rosario challenged the agency's accusers, saying: "Ilabas po natin kung sino po iyong mga pinaburan at ano 'yung basis na pinaburan sila."
(Let us bar those who were allegedly favored and the basis to give them favor.)