Roque hits Morales for seeking delay in universal healthcare law implementation

Pia Ranada
Roque hits Morales for seeking delay in universal healthcare law implementation
PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales had earlier sounded the alarm over PhilHealth's funds given the drop in contributions due to the coronavirus pandemic

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday, June 18, slammed Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) President and CEO Ricardo “Dick” Morales for asking for a delay in the implementation of the Universal Health Care law.

“That is a violation of the literal provisions of the law and the intentions of those who pushed for this law,” Roque said in Filipino in a virtual press briefing on Thursday.

“My call to the PhilHealth leadership is, if you can’t implement a law certified as urgent by the President himself because he wants free medicine for all Filipinos like what he did in Davao, then maybe we will look for someone else who can implement it,” said Roque.

Asked if he was warning that Morales and other PhilHealth officials could get fired, Roque said: “I’m not warning. It’s just that, it’s the law that has to be implemented.”

Morales, in a message to Rappler, said his mention of possibly delaying the UHC law’s implementation is still being discussed and is far from being a done deal.

“There is no decision to delay…. Congress was asking for options because the funding given is insufficient,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

What did Morales say? Last Tuesday, June 16, Morales told a virtual joint congressional committee that the implementation of universal healthcare and expansion of primary healthcare benefits may have to be delayed because the coronavirus pandemic dealt a big blow to PhilHealth’s finances and capacity to pay for the healthcare services of its members.

PhilHealth’s collections dropped to 10% of what it was last year because direct contributors could not pay after their businesses closed during coronavirus lockdowns, Morales was quoted as saying in a Manila Bulletin report.

Because of this, PhilHealth expects to dip into its reserves. Morales expects PhilHealth to have a budget deficit until 2024.

To top it all off, PhilHealth’s coronavirus healthcare assistance from February to January 2021 will cost the government corporation P40.7 billion.

In the same hearing, the Department of Budget and Management vowed to find funding for PhilHealth. For the fiscal year 2020, PhilHealth is to get a subsidy of P71.3 billion, much lower than the P153 billion it had asked for.

Corruption crackdown. Roque, on Thursday, said the government should be willing to channel billions from its coffers into universal healthcare.

“Based on the law, government funds must really be spent in order to provide free medicines and medical care,” said the spokesman.

He also urged Morales to file administrative charges against “corrupt” PhilHealth officials. 

Morales, in turn, said administrative cases and graft charges have already been filed against PhilHealth executives accused of involvement in the Wellmed scandal.

Roque had been the lawyer of whistleblowers of a scheme involving dialysis center Wellmed  which charged PhilHealth for dialysis claims of patients who were already dead.

Roque has long alleged that the scheme would not have been possible without the help of PhilHealth executives.

The spokesman said he expected Morales, a retired army general appointed in the wake of the scandal, to get to the bottom of the scam.

“We expected him to act on it. But we were disappointed, I’m sorry to say,” said Roque.

Morales shot back, saying Roque should file cases against other officials he thought were corrupt.

“Roque should file in court instead of using the Office of the [Presidential] Spokesman for his own personal vendette,” said the PhilHealth chief. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.