Duterte studying PhilHealth abolition, lawmakers say

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte is looking into the possibility of abolishing embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corporation if the newly-appointed chief fails to rid the state insurance agency of alleged fraud and widespread corruption by the end of the year, the head of the Senate said Thursday.

Duterte met with Congress leaders on Wednesday to craft plans to eliminate excessive bureaucracy and corruption in government agencies during the remainder of his term. Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Senator Christopher "Bong" Go relayed that they discussed the issue on PhilHealth during the meeting.

Sotto said Duterte is considering the abolition or privatization of the state insurance firm, but that he advised the President against it, saying they should give a chance to Dante Gierran, who took over as PhilHealth President and CEO when Ricardo Morales stepped down in August due to health woes.

"He said he wanted Philhealth abolished or privatized but I said it might be better to wait a few months and see how the new admin performs," he said in a message to reporters Thursday.

Go on Wednesday said that they have agreed to give a "chance" to Gierran until yearend to revamp the embattled agency.

"If wala pa rin, study possibility of disbanding PhilHealth," he said in a message.

[Translation: If there is no improvement, he is studying the possibility of disbanding PhilHealth.]

Malacañang earlier rejected the proposed privatization of the state-run insurer following the House bill filed by Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo in August.

“Kaya po iyan nasa ilalim ng gobyerno dahil ang pagbigay po ng kalusugan ay isang karapatan ng taumbayan at obligasyon ng estado," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on August 20.

[Translation: PhilHealth is under the government because the state is obligated to provide health services to the public.]

The two lawmakers also said Duterte is in favor of the Senate resolution to transfer the ex-officio chairmanship of PhilHealth from the health secretary to the finance chief since one of the state firm's critical mandates is to have a sustainable fund management to ensure the continous delivery of healthcare services.

PhilHealth was recently subjected to a rigorous investigation for corruption, prompting lawmakers to recommend the filing of graft charges against its top officials, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque and former chief Morales. However, the Justice Department-led task force probing PhilHealth did not include Duque in its initial list of officials recommended to face complaints; Duque's exclusion in the list was heavily criticized by several senators, including Sotto.

The Senate President said Duque was not mentioned by Duterte during their meeting.

Duterte has repeatedly insisted that Duque should neither resign nor be fired despite widespread criticisms against his leadership in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.