Health and wealth

By Reyshimar Arguelles


In the midst of this pandemic, we have come to realize that the institutions we rely on for protection and guidance are themselves putting all of us at risk. At this point, it is not easy to give the Department of Health led by embattled Secretary Francsico Duque a “Get Out of Jail for Free” card easily.

With the country having the most number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia so far, it is now a matter of “national interest” to have him —and the administration which he serves — answer for the drawbacks of the country’s response to this ongoing crisis.

Just as we thought things couldn’t get worse, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation has found itself on a tight corner after a former legal officer exposed what could be described as a syndicate working inside to pilfer the state insurer’s funds. If former PhilHealth legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith was to be believed, the country has lost more than P15 billion to anomalous procurement and reimbursement requests.

Tell us something we don’t know. Isn’t corruption already a constant in agencies that are always the subject controversy? PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales seems to think so,  adding that not even Superman can cure the agency of corruption. The problem itself is systemic and it’s difficult enough to think about burning the agency to the ground while the pandemic continues to haunt the country.

But with such a seemingly defeatist attitude towards an issue that has affected the thrust towards universal healthcare, Morales is doing the Duterte administration a disservice. After all, it was the president himself who appointed Morales — a retired military man — to the position in 2019, just a few days after Morales’s appointment to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

To this government’s mind, having a soldier take the helm of controversial agencies such as PhilHealth would put an end to systemic corruption. More than a year after Morales’s appointment, Keith tagged him a “coddler” of a syndicate working within the agency’s ranks, processing bogus claims, and acquiring IT equipment that cost more than their market prices.

And now, we have reached yet another story arc in the country’s long-running problem with corruption. We leave it up to Morales and Keith to settle personal scores in marathon Senate hearings where even bombshells could be dropped. Come to think of it, we all need a bit of drama to distract us from the country’s worsening Covid-19 situation.

But what remains crucial is the fact that no amount of leadership changes and hearings and public outcry would lead us towards a better healthcare system, one that sees the concept of healthcare as a social good and not as an economic product. Indeed, countries that consider themselves “progressive” should begin to abandon the idea that hospitals, clinics, and manufacturers of drugs and medical equipment should turn a profit in order to keep working.

This view, in itself, has only emboldened corrupt elements in the government to keep stealing funds that should have gone to their intended recipients: the immunocompromised, those who lack the means to afford quality healthcare, and especially the workers and professionals who are fighting the pandemic as frontliners.

Corruption isn’t the only thing we need to get rid of. If anything, it can only be stymied through inter-cooperation among policyholders, lawmakers, and authorities in the healthcare sector. This should go hand-in-hand with an aggressive system, but such a thing as that would be difficult to implement.

Nonetheless, the people cannot take the new anomalies from PhilHealth sitting down. And if the state really aims to institutionalize universal healthcare, it should begin by changing the entire system itself — not just the leaders. It’s a Herculean task, but if we were to develop a stronger healthcare system post-COVID-19, there is no other plan for the future besides a radical restructuring.