Health secretary to stay despite ghost dialysis scandal

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By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor

The fallout from the “ghost dialysis” scandal continued this week with various sectors calling for the resignation of Health Sec. Francisco Duque even as the Dengvaxia mess remain in people’s memory.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson reportedly asked for Duque’s resignation but the senior lawmaker said he had been misquoted.

Lacson said that a courtesy resignation was one option for Duque but this should not be interpreted as an admission of guilt. The Health Chief, the senator added, “lost an opportunity to show propriety” by hanging on to his post.

Duque himself admitted that he wanted to quit as a consequence of the scandal but was prevented from doing so by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Health Chief said he “probably should have” resigned after the mess was uncovered since he is also the chairman of the Philippine Health Insurance Co. (PhilHealth) which had allegedly paid out PHP154 billion (around US$3 billion) for fraudulent claims.

At the center of the scandal was Quezon City-based WellMed Dialysis Center. One of the country’s biggest newspapers unveiled alleged collusion between the private company and PhilHealth wherein payments were made for non-existent patients, or patients who had already passed away but who were still receiving PhilHealth benefits.

The President ordered Duque to find out the truth behind the expose of national broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer, which broke the story two weeks ago.

The President ordered the arrest of the owners of WellMed, and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) nabbed principal owner Bryan Christopher Sy, despite the lack of a warrant.

Sy was charged with estafa but was allowed to post bail over the weekend after being detained under what his lawyers said were questionable circumstances.

The NBI arrested Sy on orders of the President and held without bail by alleging that the WellMed owner was still engaged in “a continuing crime.”

A state prosecutor stated that Sy was accused of a “complex crime” rather than simple estafa owing to the large amounts involved.

Through his lawyer, Sy denied the ghost payments but said he would investigate his own people suspected to have doctored records in tandem with PhilHealth employees.

Duterte did ask for the resignation of Roy Ferrer, the acting president of PhilHealth, along with all senior executives. Named as officer in charge was Ruben John Basa, previously chief operating officer of the government-controlled nationwide health insurer.

Duterte said he wanted a new set of senior officers in order for PhilHealth to have “a clean slate.” For his part, Duque said he would also offer the post of president to Dr. Jaime Cruz, currently chief executive of a food and beverage company.

An overhaul should also include a clean-up of the PhilHealth bureaucracy, which had been reported as mired in corruption for more than a decade.

The ghost dialysis scandal would be on top of the list of questionable financial dealings to be investigated.

Duque said that the magnitude was not as huge as reported. The actual loss incurred by Philhealth was only PHP232 million, and this amount was lost from 2015 to 2018.

During this period, 23,232 claims were made and paid for which were later found to be fraudulent, according to Duque.

The Health Secretary said that resigned acting President Ferrer and six others would be investigated to determine if they played a role in the scam.

PhilHealth is the Philippines’ national health insurance company which covers all employees of both the private and public sectors. Filipino citizens who have reached age 60 are automatically covered for life.

Its predecessor was Medicare, which was launched in the 1960s.

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