Dialysis scam: Duterte seeks arrests and health insurer revamp

Separately, he denies giving order to kill drug suspects as UN urges probe into deaths

MANILA • President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the arrest of those involved in a dialysis treatment scam that defrauded Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) and is planning to revamp the state-run insurer, which lost more than 150 billion pesos (S$3.94 billion) to fictitious claims and abuse.

During an interview last Saturday on the television programme of his ally and Kingdom of Jesus Christ founder Apollo Quiboloy, Mr Duterte said he would "really go after this" and was ordering the National Bureau of Investigation to take over and start making arrests.

The President said the losses from the dialysis scam and other fraudulent claims were "totally unacceptable" and that those involved must be prosecuted.

He now wants the bureau to probe the owners and employees of WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Centre Corp, as well as hospitals that had allowed the clinic to continue asking PhilHealth for dialysis payments even after patients had died.

While there is no evidence yet, Mr Duterte added, investigators should also look at government employees who may be part of the scam.

WellMed - a dialysis clinic based in Quezon City - had exploited a loophole in PhilHealth's claims and payments system, which allowed it to receive payment for the fictitious dialysis treatment of dead patients since 2016, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported, citing a former employee of the clinic.

WellMed's lawyers denied the allegation and countered that the fraud was perpetrated by the accuser in connivance with another employee, according to the Inquirer.

Mr Duterte said he is considering revamping PhilHealth. He plans to introduce new accounting and management systems that will provide it with checks and balances to detect and prevent fraudulent medical claims.

Separately, he has also ordered the closure of Kapa Community Ministry International for allegedly collecting illegal investments through the use of religion.

He said the ministry's operation was a clear pyramid scheme, adding that its dubious return on investment of 30,000 pesos a month for a 100,000 peso investment was "too good to be true".

In the same interview, Mr Duterte said he had never ordered police to kill suspects in his campaign against illegal drugs, even as human rights experts from the United Nations called for a probe into the deaths.

"I did not say: 'Kill this person because he's a drug pusher or drug importer'. What I said to them: 'Destroy the apparatus of the drug organisation'," he said.

In a statement released last Friday, UN human rights experts called for an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, including supposed unlawful killings brought about by Mr Duterte's drug war.

More than 5,000 drug suspects have died in police operations since Mr Duterte assumed office in 2016, based on the latest government data.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo accused the UN's 11 special rapporteurs of "peddling a biased and absolutely false recital of facts" and said that the South-east Asian country was an independent democracy with a working judiciary.

"Let the enemies of the state and their supporters from foreign soil be forewarned that no amount of destructive narratives against this government will envelope it with the appearance of pretended truth to hoodwink the Filipino people into embracing it," Mr Panelo said in a statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Dialysis scam: Duterte seeks arrests and health insurer revamp'. Print Edition | Subscribe