MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday debunked Health Secretary Francisco Duque's claim that dialysis centers and maternity clinics were eligible to receive funds from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp's (PhilHealth) advance deposits for emergency events.
Duque told the Senate Committee of the Whole that there was nothing irregular about the inclusion of dialysis centers and maternity wards in PhilHealth's interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) since these facilities were also affected by the global pandemic.
PhilHealth's IRM disbursements are among reported irregularities the Senate is investigating following corruption allegations against agency officials.
"We are in a war against an invisible enemy and COVID patients are not the only casualties in this war," the health chief said.
"IRM funds are not exclusive to hospitals catering to COVID-19 patients... because this PhilHealth mechanism ensures the provision of benefits for Filipinos," he said.
Lacson asked Duque to cite a provision in the IRM circular that proves that non-COVID-19 facilities are entitled to receive emergency funding from the state-run insurance firm.
"Maski hanapin niyo maghapon, walang kayong makikita na magju-justify na puwede sakupin ng IRM ang non-COVID cases. Maski isang linggo kayo maghanap, wala kayo makikita," Lacson said after Duque asked for time to review the documents.
(Even if you look for it all day, you won't find anything that would justify that the IRM covers non-COVID cases. Even if you spend a week looking for it, you will not find it.)
The circular that authorizes the advance payment to hospitals only covers "fortuitous" or unforeseeen events, Lacson told Duque, citing several portions of the document.
"Ang dialysis po ba, fortuitous event? Hindi. 'Yung maternity care fortuitous event po ba 'yun? Hindi," the senator said.
(Is dialysis a fortuitous event? No. Is maternity care a fortuitous event? No.)
Lacson reminded Duque - who has been in the PhilHealth's board since 2001 - that the IRM is only used during natural or man-made calamities like Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013, the Marawi siege in 2017, and the Taal Volcano eruption in 2020.
While dialysis centers also receive reimbursements from PhilHealth, these are considered as "regular benefit claims," Lacson said.
"'Yang sinasabi ninyo, hindi tatama sa fortuitous event na COVID-19," he said.
(What you are saying is not part of the fortuitous event called COVID-19.)
Duque agreed with Lacson and said that his office would "rectify" the wrong implementation of the IRM.
Senators have been criticizing PhilHealth officials for disbursing billions of funds to dialysis centers and maternity clinics, while hospitals deluged with COVID-19 patients have yet to be reimbursed.
Earlier, PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales and other agency officials had also defended the disbursement of COVID-19 funds to health facilities not catering to coronavirus patients.