“From the start, Gabriela has been pushing to abolish Philhealth and to give its budget to hospitals directly for spending on medicines, supplies, and salaries of health workers. Now the public really sees no benefits from this agency, and taxpayers are even burdened with paying for the bonuses of its officials, as if we are rewarding them for their botched job performance.” – Gabriela Women’s Party Re. Emmi de Jesus
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Progressive groups lambasted the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s (Philhealth) over delays in remitting service reimbursements despite the increase in its budget for the year 2014.
Recently, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI), which has 600 member hospitals all over the country warned that they would stop accepting client applications to cover their hospitalization expenses. According to PHAPI President Rustico Jimenez, private hospitals are already incurring debts because Philhealth is not paying claims on time.
Philhealth president Alexander Padilla, however, denied the allegations of PHAPI saying that they are still processing some P19.2 million ($436,855) in claims.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. (GWP) Emmi De Jesus said that her group has been right all along in declaring Philhealth as “an overfunded white elephant that tortures patients and hospital managers.”
“From the start, Gabriela has been pushing to abolish Philhealth and to give its budget to hospitals directly for spending on medicines, supplies, and salaries of health workers. Now the public really sees no benefits from this agency, and taxpayers are even burdened with paying for the bonuses of its officials, as if we are rewarding them for their botched job performance,” De Jesus said.
According to the Commission on Audit, PhilHealth executives and employees were granted $34.807 million in bonuses in 2013. Its Board of Directors received a bonus of P1.2 million ($27,846.05 ) each.
De Jesus noted that Health Secretary Enrique Ona boasted that Philhealth’s budget rose by 179 percent to P35.3 billion ($803 million) for 2014. Last year’s budget for Philhealth is P12.6 billion ($286 million). “Yet the only speedy decision it implemented was hikes in bonuses for its officials as hospitals keep complaining of long waits before they get paid,” she said.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap asked, “Where are the millions of pesos of members’ contributions to Philhealth? Why did Mr. Padilla fail to pay on time the hospital bills of sick members?”
“It is really unjust that while Philhealth members pay their dues in order to secure health benefits in times of emergencies, Mr. Padilla, on the other hand, is not giving the same commitment” Hicap added.
Hicap said Philhealth has been incompetent in providing services to its members even when it has raised its premium this year. “The only thing that Mr. Padilla is competent of is to further squeeze its members of contributions,” Hicap said.
‘Do not make patients suffer’
Hicap said private hospitals should not let Philhealth members suffer for Philhealth’s inability to process reimbursements. “While Anakpawis disagrees with the PHAPI’s action to force its patients to shell out more money to pay their bills, it should not in any way hostage its patients because of Philhealth’s delays in paymenst. The patients are not the ones who are at fault here but the agency.”
He urged Philhealth members to protest against the management’s failure to pay their bills on time. “They should also demand financial transparency from the institution so that this kind of incident will never happen again. It is their right as members, who pay their contributions on time, to ask for better health care services. Also, Philhealth bosses including Mr. Padilla should return their lump sum bonuses and stop compensating themselves with such grand rewards coming from its members premiums because they are too lazy to carry out policies that will speed up its services.”
GWP Rep. Luz Ilagan also urged Philhealth that instead of issuing threats to sue the PHAPI, it should instead pay its obligations and speed up its system of processing of claims. Eventually, Ilagan said, the failed insurance system should be phased-out in favor of a more pro-poor system of health care financing.
“In budget hearings, we voted against Philhealth’s bloated budget, and now it’s clear it has failed patients repeatedly despite yearly increases. Services worsened even it raised member premiums on OFWs and local workers despite protests. Congress and the Commission on Audit must really make Philhealth reveal what causes the huge delays, and the legislature must decide once and for all to defund Philhealth in the 2015 budget,” Ilagan said.
Kilusang Mayo Uno chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog meanwhile said they would closely watch Philhealth’s promise to settle its obligations to private hospitals by the end of June. He said that it would be unacceptable for members not to receive benefits that they have paid for.
“Philhealth should keep its promise of settling obligations by June. We workers need to receive the benefits that we paid for and we will be protesting if we fail to do so,” said Labog.
Labog lambasted the privatization policy of President Benigno S. Aquino III, saying the late payments to private hospitals point to the need to reverse the Aquino government’s policy of privatizing government hospitals and to increase state subsidy for public hospitals.
He said that prior to and outside of Philhealth, workers have been paying taxes ,which should go to funding public hospitals and health services. “It is revolting that we have been made to pay more via Philhealth so that we can get so-called discounts when paying private hospitals. And it is even more revolting that these additional payments are being remitted late or, worse, pocketed by corrupt executives,” Labog said.
Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said the Aquino administration boasted that there is an increase in the number of Philhealth beneficiaries, and that “nowadays, the poorest among our countrymen can simply walk inside any government hospital, show their Philhealth card, and receive the treatment they need free of charge.”
“We are outraged by the Aquino administration and Philhealth’s compulsive lying. Aquino should be ashamed of himself blurting out lies about the status of healthcare in the Philippines,” Crisostomo said.
Crisostomo said the Aquino administration and Philhealth have brought nothing but suffering to the masses. “A liar like Aquino should be booted out of office for giving false hope to the public, and his detachment from reality. Philhealth as a tool for the further privatization of hospitals should also be scrapped. It is up for the masses to organize themselves, stand up, and push for genuine health care,” he said.