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Stop corruption in PhilHealth first before raising excise taxes on alcohol

VALENZUELA CITY, Philippines – PhilHealth beneficiaries during a distribution of cards activity in this city, January 2011 file image. Senator Win Gatchalian wants corruption in the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to be completely eradicated first before the Senate pass a measure that will raise excise taxes on alcohol products. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Senator Win Gatchalian wants corruption in the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to be completely eradicated first before the Senate pass a measure seeking to raise excise taxes on alcohol products.

During the initial deliberations on Senate Bill No. 383, which seeks to increase the excise tax rates on alcohol products, and forms part of or the proposed package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program of the Department of Finance, Gatchalian questioned the capability of PhilHealth to implement the Universal Health Care (UHC) Program of the government amid allegations of corruption hounding the agency.

“Nung 17th Congress, we raised the tobacco excise tax precisely to fund the Universal Health Care Program. It also serves as a dual purpose and that is to reduce the consumption of cigarettes,” Gatchalian said.

“Ngayon, nandito ulit tayo para taasan naman yung buwis sa alcohol, precisely to fund the UHC program, through PhilHealth. Pero lumalabas sa reports na ang laki ng nawawala sa PhilHealth dahil sa korapsyon,” he said.

Citing the privilege speech of Senator Panfilo Lacson, Gatchalian pointed out that the Commission on Audit found that that the state-run corporation made overpayments in at least 20% of the 6,128 cases recorded by the Commission on Audit from 2013 to 2018.

These figures meant that of the ₱512.6 billion in benefit claims paid by PhilHealth from 2013 to 2018, PhilHealth made an overpayment of ₱102.5 billion. Meanwhile, Gatchalian also noted that one medical facility – WellMed Dialysis Center – allegedly carted away around ₱300 million since 2016 through fraudulent claims with PhilHealth, citing a CNN Philippines report.

“Ito po ay nakakabahala. ₱102.5 billion ang nawala sa overpayment ng PhilHealth. Samantalang sa isang facility pa lamang, sa WellMed, ₱300 million, ang naibayad ng PhilHealth sa mga ghost or non-existing patients. And now we are talking about raising taxes to be given to an agency that is plagued with corruption,” the senator pointed out.

“Parang tinataasan natin yung buwis para pondohan yung korapsyon na nangyayari sa loob ng Philhealth. Sa ngayon, sa mga lumalabas na issues at sa mga comments sa aming hearing, na walang control or walang sistema sa loob ng Philhealth kaya marami pong ganitong korapsyon,” he said.

For this reason, Gatchalian asked PhilHealth representatives to submit to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means a list of safeguards or reforms that the corporation would implement to ensure that the money given to PhilHealth from the excise tax collections on alcohol and tobacco products will be properly used for the benefit of the real beneficiaries of the UHC program of the government.

“We owe it to our tax payers. Hindi po fair sa ating mga taxpayers na sisingilin natin sila pero ito ay mapupunta lamang sa bulsa ng mga nananamantala tulad ng WellMed,” the lawmaker said.

“Why doesn’t PhilHealth first propose its internal reforms so that legislators like us will be assured that corruption will not happen and the taxes that will be collected through an increase in excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products will not be put into waste,” he added.