Philippine Red Cross payment not a priority for PhilHealth due to absence of kickback: Gordon

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2020 10:09 PM

Philippine Red Cross chair Sen. Richard Gordon visits one of PRC's laboratories on June 19, 2020. Photo from PRC's official Facebook page

MANILA - Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is not prioritizing payments to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) because corrupt officials in the agency are not getting kickbacks from the non-government organization.

PhilHealth has failed to pay the PRC around P800 million for COVID-19 testing expenses, while it disbursed billions of pesos to dialysis centers and maternity clinics during the global pandemic, said Gordon, who chairs the PRC.

"Ang binabayaran nilang hospital 'yung alaga ng iba diyan. Ang Red Cross hindi binabayaran... kasi hindi nila kami alaga... Hindi sila kikita sa amin," he said during the Senate Committee of the Whole's investigation into alleged irregularities in PhilHealth.

(They are paying hospitals who are pets of some officials. They did not immediately pay the Red Cross... because we are not their pets... They cannot get kickbacks from us.)

"Since 1947 we have been existing here. Wala kaming kalokohan (We do not have any anomalies). We are not going to destroy that record," he said.

PhilHealth earlier signed an agreement authorizing PRC to conduct and process the COVID-19 swab tests for returning migrant workers and some frontliners.

The state-run insurance firm deposited P100 million in advance payment to PRC, but failed to remit additional funds after the initial fund was depleted, Gordon said.

Under the contract, PhilHealth is supposed to settle its dues up to 3 days after the PRC sends the billing statement, he said.

"Somebody's got to tell these guys, when you write a contract, you have to abide by it. You cannot change the rules in the middle of the game," he said.

"Hindi na sila nag-replenish. Abante kami nang abente using our savings," he said.

(They did not replenish. We kept on going forward using our savings.)

Earlier this week, Gordon threatened to halt PRC's COVID-19 testing program if PhilHealth fails to settle its debt.

"'Pag nagsara kami, titigil ang airport (testing). Lahat ng OFW, lahat ng galing sa local government, sa major testing centers, lahat dinadala sa Red Cross," he said, noting that the organization is the top COVID-19 testing network with the country as it processes up to 12,000 swabs a day.

(If we close our services, the airport testing will be paralyzed. All tests from OFWs, from the local government and from major testing centers are brought to the Red Cross.)

"If they don't want to use the Red Cross, that's fine with me pero ang maghihirap ang tao (but the people will suffer)," he warned.

Gordon urged other senators to "drop the hammer" on PhilHealth, saying the agency has been riddled with so many irregularities over the years.

The agency is even forcing PRC to use COVID-19 test kits that are more expensive than what the non-government organization offers, Gordon said.

PhilHealth wants to use an oral swab priced at P1,352 each when the PRC is already administering oral and nasal testing for only P936, he said.

"Bakit naman ako papayag [na gumamit ng mas mahal]? Baka mamaya masama pa ako sa overcharging [case]," he said.

(Why would I agree to use more expensive kits? I might be implicated in an overcharging case.)

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who chairs the PhilHealth board, said the state-run insurance firm has remitted at least P400 million to the PRC.

Gordon confirmed the payment, but noted that the insurance agency only settled their dues 26 days after the billing was sent and after numerous appeals to Cabinet secretaries.

"Invisible, hindi mo makikita, de-deadma ka... It has been brought up to IATF," the senator said referring to the Inter Agency Task Force leading the country's fight against COVID-19.

(They have been invisible, you cannot see them, they will even ignore you.)

"Ewan ko anong magic meron ang PhilHealth bakit ayaw magbayad agad," he said.

(I don't know what kind of magic is happening inside PhilHealth that they refuse to pay on time.)