Dialysis company tagged in PhilHealth ‘IRM’ mess vows integrity, cooperation with gov’t

JC Gotinga
Dialysis company tagged in PhilHealth ‘IRM’ mess vows integrity, cooperation with gov’t

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B. Braun Avitum Philippines says advanced payments it received from PhilHealth benefited dialysis patients during the pandemic, but Senator Panfilo Lacson insists the funds should have gone to COVID-19 patients

B. Braun Avitum Philippines Incorporated, a chain of dialysis centers tagged in a controversy over PhilHealth advanced payments, responded to allegations of irregularity, saying funds it received from the state insurer went into services for dialysis patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement on Thursday, August 13, the company said it complied with laws and legal requirements. It said it was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), contrary to an allegation made by Senator Panfilo Lacson during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, August 11.

The company said it would fully cooperate with the government “in its quest for transparency and good governance.” Several government agencies are investigating allegations of corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

In Senate investigative hearings on August 4 and 11, Lacson said 5 branches of B. Braun Avitum received a total of more than P45 million from PhilHealth’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM). The amount was part of some P226 million in IRM funds PhilHealth paid to freestanding dialysis centers.

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Lacson and other senators questioned these payments, as the IRM was meant to assist healthcare institutions (HCI) that handle COVID-19 patients. Lacson said B. Braun Avitum does not take in COVID-19 patients, which the company did not deny.

“During the ongoing pandemic, the funds made available through the IRM to support the operations of all Philippine HCIs have enabled B. Braun Avitum to continue to provide quality renal services to dialysis patients who require regular treatment,” the company said in its statement.

“Such treatment must not be interrupted despite the coronavirus situation, as our patients’ lives will be compromised,” the company added. It then expressed appreciation of “the IRM funds received from PhilHealth.”

B. Braun Philippines’ statement issued on August 13, 2020

B. Braun Avitum said its parent company, B. Braun, has been in operation for 180 years, and it entered the Philippines 34 years ago. B. Braun Avitum owns and manages 25 dialysis centers across Luzon, it said.

“B. Braun holds itself strictly to the highest standards of integrity in all its business dealings. To B. Braun, compliance is more than simply complying with laws and legal requirements. It also embraces the ethical values of integrity, fairness, and sustainability. In each of our business transactions, we adhere to the most stringent standards of integrity and professionalism,” the company added.

The company said it was registered with the SEC on December 11, 1985 as B. Braun Medical Supplies Incorporated. B. Braun Avitum, meanwhile, is its wholly-owned subsidiary originally incorporated as Philippine Renal Care Incorporated on January 24, 2002. This Philippine Renal Care Incorporated was later renamed to B. Braun Avitum Philippines Incorporated, the company said.

Lacson: Still unjustified

During the hearing on Tuesday, August 11, Lacson said his office checked with the SEC, and only found a record of B. Braun Medical Supplies Incorporated, and none of B. Braun Avitum.

Lacson showed reporters an SEC certificate that stated “B. Braun Avitum Dialysis Inc” is not a registered corporation, and it only had “B. Braun Medical Supplies Inc” on record.

“Unless they show their documents to the contrary, and validated by SEC, I will have to stand by the government agency’s issued document,” Lacson said in a statement on Thursday.

The senator pointed out the issue was the release of government funds meant to address COVID-19, to an HCI that does not cater to COVID-19 patients.

“Nothing can justify the release of funds in the aggregate amount of at least P45 million to B. Braun Avitum Dialysis Center Inc that has not catered to a single COVID-19 patient, and with such record speed, compared to more deserving HCIs, especially government hospitals catering to COVID-19 patients, which up to now have not received any payment in relation to PhilHealth Circular 2020-0007, which is its specific intent and purpose,” Lacson said, referring to the memo authorizing the current iteration of the IRM.

PhilHealth on Thursday afternoon suspended the IRM, following pressure from several government officials who criticized the program as fodder for politicking and corruption.

Equivalent to 90 days’ worth of an HCI’s average daily PhilHealth reimbursements from the previous year, the IRM was supposed to be a way to immediately give hospitals and clinics enough cash to operate during the pandemic. Premised on eventual services they would offer PhilHealth members, the IRM was a workaround the state insurer’s long, tedious, and perennially delayed reimbursement process.

But as some senators pointed out, the IRM was in effect a system of cash advances, not reimbursements, which means it should be subject to more controls and restrictions. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.