Duque’s office, PhilHealth get bulk of DOH budget despite scandal
MANILA, Philippines — Despite a scandal involving alleged corruption in the state health insurance system, the lion’s share of the proposed P204-billion budget of the Department of Health (DOH) next year will go to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s office while the next biggest slice will go to controversy-wracked Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
As much as 62 percent of the DOH budget will be lodged in the Office of the Secretary, amounting to P127.3 billion, while PhilHealth’s share is 35 percent, at P71 billion, health officials told lawmakers in a budget briefing on Wednesday.
‘We asked for more’
Duque, who attended the meeting via Zoom, said the DOH had actually asked for “far more” for PhilHealth than the budget ceiling set by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the 2021 expenditure program.
“This is not in accordance with the prescribed budget under the universal health care (UHC) law. We asked for far more. We were asking for P138 billion to be able to implement fully the provisions of the UHC law,” he said in reply to a question from Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo.
PhilHealth acting Senior Vice President Nerissa Santiago said the state-run health insurer’s P138 billion was based on an actual list of PhilHealth beneficiaries and the amounts set for premium subsidies.
The House health committee held the meeting to discuss the DOH outlay in a separate discussion from that of the appropriations panel, which is scheduled to tackle it next week.
The bulk of the funds going to Duque’s office has been earmarked for DOH operations, with 40 percent reserved for promotive and preventive services, and 37 percent for curative and rehabilitative services, Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde told the committee.
The DOH’s proposed budget is 27 percent higher than 2020’s P176 billion due in part to the requirements of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Villaverde said.
Health-care law funding
About half of the budget for the DOH and its attached agencies, or 48 percent, will be for personnel services, while 44 percent is for maintenance and other operating expenses. Only 8 percent has been set aside for capital outlay.
The implementation of the universal health care law, including funding for PhilHealth beneficiaries who have contracted the new coronavirus, amounts to P51.99 billion, Villaverde said.
Funding for the deployment of health-care workers—including doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and pharmacists—was increased from P9.95 billion in 2020 to P16.58 billion, he added.
On the other hand, the allocation for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) was reduced from P8.38 billion to P4.78 billion. This is “to equip facilities we have constructed, improved or renovated in the last few years,” the DOH said.
Officials said the national expenditure program also introduced some changes from the previous DOH budget, such as the merging of certain budget line items for “flexibility.”
For instance, separate items for elimination of diseases, tuberculosis control, rabies control, and prevention and control of infectious disease were consolidated into one item, for prevention and control of communicable diseases.
Two new budget line items were introduced, for procurement and supply chain management service, and health technology assessment.
Duque explained that P5 billion for health infrastructure was put in the “unprogrammed” fund by the DBM basically as a lump sum instead of line items.
The chair of the House health panel, Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, asked him why there was no itemization of the infrastructure program.
Duque said he actually supported the idea of itemizing infrastructure projects instead of keeping them unprogrammed.
“It’s just that we’re told by [the] DBM that unprogrammed funds are basically anchored on tax collection performance in order to be funded. That way, it’s clear where the funds would be coming from,” he said.
Duque, who serves as chair of PhilHealth, is at the center of a controversy in the company involving disclosures that members of its executive committee were part of a “mafia” or “syndicate” that allegedly had made off with P15 billion in company funds.
Former PhilHealth officials had testified in Senate and House inquiries about alleged moneymaking schemes, including alleged overpricing of an information technology project, manipulation of financial statements, and reimbursements for COVID-19 treatment to hospitals that handled no coronavirus cases.
The Senate reported that PhilHealth was financially “hemorrhaging” as a result of mismanagement and corruption and its reserve fund would run out by 2022.
The controversy prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint former National Bureau of Investigation Director Dante Gierran to replace PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales, who was forced to step down because of ill health.
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